Saints just ain’t good enough
Southampton have shipped goals for fun away this season (32 conceded in 15) but have been generally sound at home (14 in 15 prior to Saturday) while also scoring in their last 15 consecutive matches at St Mary’s.
Chelsea had other plans, and this game was the bounce back that we needed. Southampton certainly had their part to play in the scoreline, as they were almost as bad as we were good.
Tuchel’s favourite pastime, messing with lineup predictions and expectations, was on display again, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek deputizing at right wingback for a half-fit Reece James and an isolating César Azpilicueta.
Southampton do sometimes vary their formation slightly in reaction to their opposition, but the 4-4-2 that Ralph Hasenhüttl sent out was the same one that was obliterated by Manchester City and Aston Villa in the past weeks. He may want to rethink that, as it certainly played into our hands.
In theory Saints play a high-pressing game with a strong rate of turnovers, an impressive number of which are converted to shots. That is probably the precise reason Hasenhüttl opted for a pair of strikers and a four-man midfield while also expecting to concede possession.
And yet, Chelsea only lost the ball 7 times in our defensive half in the entire game. Most of those were right near the midfield line, and only one was converted into a shot on goal. Southampton were on the back foot from the off, and we didn’t give them a chance to utilize one of their greater strengths.
In fact, much of their initial setup and strategy played into our favour. They had intentions on playing out from the back, despite time and time again losing out to our effective and very coordinated press. The individual errors caused by our comprehensive press far outweighed any benefit they gained from their passing efforts. Often they were forced into long clearances (15 in total) in hopes of their isolated front two winning an aerial duel and alleviating pressure. Chelsea won 20 aerial duels to their 9.
Without a consistent deep outlet, they may have hoped that a congested four in the midfield would allow them to pass around our press. Oh how wrong they were! N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić are far and away our most impactful double-sixes when they are on their game. Between the pair of them, they had 11 tackles, lost possession only 3 times, regained possession 8 times in the opposition half alone, and had an absolutely mind-boggling 34 passes into the final third. Their combined heat map literally lights up the entire midfield!
Southampton’s narrow back four against our mobile attack with aggressive wingbacks and midfielders was dismantled time and time again. Our runs were too fluid for their adaptations, and the only one who seemed to show up was Fraser Forster, easily their best player on the pitch. Our goals were all caused by one or more of three main factors:
It’s impossible to truly and accurately emphasize the impact Mount had on the game. His numbers were outstanding, but Southampton had no idea what to do about his mobility. His positional awareness and passing range were on display for quite a few of the goals, including his own. He was dropping to receive and then making an incisive forward pass, contributing to overloads down one flank, and popping up in the box with impeccable timing.
For the first goal, he showed impeccable timing and vision to get into the box, jump onto the end of a Loftus-Cheek cross, control it on his chest, and then lay off blindly behind himself to Marcos Alonso — who made no mistake as expected.
Mount would not only finish but start the play for our second goal. After dropping deep, still without any proper marking, He has the vision to spread a crossfield ball to the boot of Loftus-Cheek, open on the far side due to the narrow back four of Southampton.
Loftus-Cheek plays a pass looking for Werner, but doesn’t quite find him. Mount picks up the pieces, again getting himself into the ideal location, and smashes into the bottom corner from quite a range.
Timo Werner was also extremely effective, if not as clinical as Mount. Just By himself he had a 1.62 xG — hitting the woodwork three times — and also drawing a couple miraculous saves by Forster. Werner was able to demonstrate his lethal speed for his first goal, but also made a number of runs between the lines that were timed well and broke the defense singlehandedly.
While Tuchel was demanding a response, this is as fast as Chelsea have ever bagged three goals in a Premier League match. And we would soon nearly beat our timing record to a 4-0 scoreline though the game was essentially done and dusted before half, after two terrible defensive errors from James Ward-Prowse and Mohammed Salisu gifted to us the third and fourth goals.
Southampton were be forced into a change even before the break, removing former Barcelona and Chelsea man Oriol Romeu for Yan Valery and shifting to a back five to hope to apply a tourniquet to any additional loss.
Changes were also made at half as Christian Pulisic came on for Kai Havertz, who was being rested, and Ibrahima Diallo replaced Adam Armstrong. But the damage had been done and the punishment would continue.
After a four-goal lead became a six-goal lead stll before the hour mark, Tuchel took off both Thiago Silva (Reece James on) and Mason Mount (Hakim Ziyech on). Once Mount came off, the xG dropped off measurably as well.
Édouard Mendy does deserve an honourable mention as well. After having virtually nothing to do all evening, the wing of Loftus-Cheek was hit with a penetrating pass to Kyle Walker-Peters and Ché Adams would be denied of their best opportunity by far.
It was about as strong of a performance as we could’ve hoped for while keeping one eye towards the midweek competition, which should be quite the match.
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