As Southampton scored their second via yet more woeful defending, there appeared a resignation in the stands and from Antonio Conte, who stood motionless on the touchline. It could have got toxic in the away end had a comeback not been made, with audible discontent towards a man who did not seem to look bothered about his team’s shortcomings. Even after the match, he did not applaud the exceptional travelling support, something which endeared him to many throughout last season.
Change of tune from Conte?
Despite looking unbothered by the events which unfolded, his two substitutions straight after Southampton’s second worked a treat. A newly found gung-ho mentality saw Giroud replace Alvaro Morata and Pedro replace the woeful Davide Zappacosta, and suddenly there was an impetus about the team which hasn’t been seen in weeks. It was as if, finally, the players had had the pressure taken off, the shackles released and were able to play their football without fear of failure. And it worked to devastating effect, as Giroud in particular took the game by the horns and delivered a performance to suggest his signing in January could be more than a panic buy to satisfy a want-away coach.
His first goal came courtesy of a fantastic header from an Alonso cross. Alonso was lucky to remain on the pitch, following both an appalling performance which could have seen him hooked, and also a shocking tackle on Shane Long, a man who once again, ran the Chelsea defence ragged.
Giroud’s physical presence was a far-cry from the ineffective Morata, a man who has spent most of his 2018 complaining to referees instead of providing a useful focal point in attack. Morata was the marquee signing of last summer, and despite a fast start, he hasn’t lived up to expectation.
He has received more yellow cards than Diego Costa received in 2016/17, yet that’s about the only thing he’s contributed more of, and Morata is simply a shadow of the presence Costa provided upfront.
Eden Hazard was the other player who seemingly benefitted from Conte’s tactical change. His first goal in eight games was a composed finish, however it was his impact on the game as a whole which changed drastically.
Be careful what you wish for...
From a peripheral figure to the key creative spark, it was no coincidence that Hazard’s improvement coincided with Chelsea’s as a whole. While Giroud’s match-winning contribution was rightfully rewarded with a man-of-the-match, Hazard is quite obviously the main man at Chelsea and his dip in performances coincided with the dreadful recent run.
I saw the Belgian take some stick this week on social media, but I feel people need to be careful with what they wish for. Hazard is a supremely talented player, our best player by a considerable distance, and the last person we should think about selling.
Defensively, it was disappointing to see Antonio Rudiger unnecessarily omitted from the team for his comments slating Conte’s tactics following the draw to West Ham. While the official line was ‘tactical reasons,’ it appeared Rudiger had been punished for stating what the majority of fans currently think.
Conte has gone from darling of the King’s Road to a miserable burden on the club, and players criticising his tactics in public only indicates that the players are uncertain of both his methods, and his future.
Gary Cahill served up his second consecutive horror show, while Cesar Azpilicueta has been nowhere near the player he’s alleged to be for much of this season. Admittedly, many players have been off-colour, but it’s decidedly uncool to criticise Azpilicueta amongst the Chelsea fanbase. However, his recent performances have been poor, and he must return to his usual high standards if he is to remain a key player.
Southampton only heading in one direction...
It looks as if this victory plunges Southampton into deep trouble, and I would be disappointed to see them relegated. It’s one of the season’s best away trips, with a good selection of pubs coupled with a good allocation.
I hope they do not revive their form in time for next weekend’s FA Cup Semifinal, however I would much rather see Swansea be relegated. Chelsea did manage to take advantage of Southampton frailties despite going 2-0 down, and it’s a result which sees the gap to Tottenham in fourth reduced to seven points with five to play.
While Champions League qualification is unlikely at best, there needs to be a concerted effort to achieve as many points as possible in our efforts to qualify for the premier competition next season.
MORE: Is missing out on the top four good for Chelsea?