Hazard keeping spluttering Blues alive, but Saints' new tactic can hurt them

Ronald Koeman has a plan up his sleeve to expose Chelsea's attack-minded full-backs, writes Alex Keble...

It is indicative of the gulf in quality between these two sides that while both stumble through a period of uncharacteristically arthritic football, Chelsea are grinding out wins while Southampton's season is crumbling.

The visitors are in desperate need of a satisfying performance to reinvigorate their season and, using Ronald Koeman's latest tactical tweak, they may just sneak a result. How to stop Eden Hazard is another question entirely.

Recognising the creative deficiencies developing within his once-fluid side, Koeman has begun instructing his players to fire long, direct balls into the channels for Sadio Mane and Eljero Elia to chase.

This system completely unravelled Liverpool's defence in the first half three weeks ago, and has since been replicated in each of their subsequent matches against West Brom and Crystal Palace.

Liverpool were startled by a long ball system that saw Nathaniel Clyne twice break into the box early on.


This tactic could be highly successful against Chelsea's meandering, attack-minded full-backs, particularly considering that the league leaders are likely to dominate possession (as they did in the reverse fixture).

Against Burnley, Branislav Ivanovic and Filipe Luis held high positions; if Chelsea dominate possession this weekend, these two will be lured forward, leaving their team exposed to Saints' new approach.

For Chelsea, their primary creative threat will undoubtedly be Hazard. It is largely the Belgian's individual brilliance that has prevented a wider inquisition into the Blues' recent spluttering performances.

Hazard's form has been remarkably consistent, and Southampton's scouts trawling through the videos will find only one occasion – the 0-0 draw at Sunderland – when a team has kept him quiet.

That day it was Lee Cattermole, sitting deep in front of the back four, who made Chelsea's main playmaker anonymous by occupying the left-central position that Hazard drives into.

Note how many of Cattermole's tackles took place in Hazard's zone.

If Southampton's Morgan Schneiderlin (3.3 tackles, 2.4 interceptions per match) can man-mark Hazard from a similar position, while also helping distribute the ball quickly down the flanks, Koeman's men stand a chance of resuscitating their flailing Champions League push at Stamford Bridge.

Schneiderlin can be very effective in deep defensive positions.

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