A thoroughly entertaining 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge saw league leaders Chelsea take a step closer to their first Premier League title in five years, following Manchester Citya s unexpected loss to relegation battlers Burnley the previous day. Jose Mourinhoa s side were looking to respond after their midweek Champions League exit to Paris Saint-Germain, and after a poor first half, they did just that. The Saints, however, remained resilient in defence a as they have done away from home all season a and with the aid of keeper Fraser Forster, managed to take away what ultimately was a deserved point from the game.
Here are four things we learned from the end-to-end encounter at the Bridge:
1. Eden Hazard is still Chelseaa s main man
At a time when the influence of Cesc Fabregas is at an all-season low, and Diego Costa isna t quite in the goal-scoring form that saw him dominate the headlines for much of the first half of the season, it is Chelseaa s Belgian wizard that has once again stepped up to assume responsibility. Hazard has been the Bluesa best player in 2015, scoring and setting up decisive goals in crucial victories for his team a 10 in his last 13 Premier League appearances.
It was Chelseaa s #10 that once again took the initiative in the second half on Sunday: picking up the ball in midfield and running relentlessly at a tiring Southampton defence, showing glimpses of his exceptional technical ability with a couple of nutmegs before breaking into space and finding a team-mate in a threatening position, and in what could potentially have been a decisive moment in the game, setting up Oscar for a one-on-one with Fraser Forster with an exquisite pass through the Saintsa midfield and defence. It was also his run from midfield and quick exchange with Diego Costa that led to the Spanish internationala s 18th league goal of the season. Mourinho has spoken in the past of the Belgiana s a evolutiona , and games such as this, as well as the ones at Tottenham, Aston Villa and West Ham are proof that Hazard is now a player that is more capable of turning his teama s fortunes in a game a grabbing it by the scruff of the neck rather than being content with intermittent moments of individual brilliance. Chelsea are still favourites to go on and win the title, and despite their inconsistent results of late, Hazarda s form is a massive positive going into the final ten games of the season.
2. Effects of Mourinhoa s lack of rotation beginning to show
Although the home side made a strong start to the game with Diego Costa getting back on the score sheet, what followed in the first half is likely to cause concern in the Bluesa camp. Southampton appeared to blow Chelsea away with the pace and intensity of their football a Sadio Mane in particular terrorising the Bluesa defence with his raw pace, ably assisted by the likes of Shane Long.
Mourinho has used just 22 players in the league this season, fewer than any other side in the division, and the Portuguese manager made just one change to the side that started the game in the extra-time defeat to PSG just three days ago a with Willian coming in for Ramires.
Fatigue tends to accumulate over the course of the season, and it is perhaps Mourinhoa s reticence in utilizing his full squad that has contributed, in part, to Oscara s alarming dip in form in the second half of the season. Chelseaa s no.8 had another poor performance, not only missing a glorious opportunity to give his side the lead after being played through on goal by Hazard, but failing to have an impact on the game in any tangible way. There is a sense amongst Chelsea fans that the Brazilian, whilst being a quality footballer, is not nearly as consistent as he should be; seven goals and as many assists this season in all competitions are not terrible stats, but do not quite reflect the ability he possesses. With the entire team not nearly as effective any more at pressing high up the pitch and recovering the ball in the opposition half a something Oscar excels at a the former Internacional man tends to become something of a passenger for significant portions of the match.
Fabregas is another who seems to be struggling to find his best form in the second half of the season. The Spaniard had a very poor first half and gave the ball away numerous times throughout the course of the game. Whilst there is no doubting he should do better individually, Chelseaa s lack of dynamism and movement in the final third in the first half of the game on Sunday could hardly have helped. Perhaps it is worthwhile for Mourinho to consider the other options he has in the squad a fresh legs that can provide that movement a the likes of Juan Cuadrado, Loic Remy and even Filipe Luis, who offers natural width on the left and can produce decent crosses for the likes of Costa. Remya s lack of game time has been puzzling given he has scored in almost every game when given the chance to start; almost equally surprising is the fact that Azpilicueta and Luis have barely been played together in the league this season. Bransilav Ivanovic, despite being superb in patches this season, has played game after game without a rest a and judging from the run-around that Stewart Downing gave him in the second half at Upton Park as well as how utterly vulnerable Chelsea appeared on their right flank against Southampton, it is perhaps something for Mourinho to consider in the title run-in.
3. Morgan Schneiderlin will not be a Southampton player for much longer
Despite being heavily linked with a move away from the club throughout the course of this season, Morgan Schneiderlin has stayed put at Southampton. Performances like the one at Stamford Bridge yesterday highlight just why the Saints were so keen to hang on to the French international. In a game featuring two of the best defensive midfielders in the league a Schneiderlin and Nemanja Matic a it was the Saintsa midfield lynchpin that came out on top. The Frenchman made 9 interceptions and 10 successful tackles, whilst recovering the ball a game-high 21 times (all stats courtesy Opta Stats) in a performance that not only showed his tenacity and defensive industry, but also his technical ability when on the ball.
Schneiderlin is the complete package a composed on the ball and clever with its use, as well as someone who is capable of getting stuck in when the game demands it. There arena t many teams in the Premier League that wouldna t improve with him in the side.
As such, it is difficult to see how Southampton can retain him beyond this season. Even though Dutch manager Ronald Koeman has worked wonders with this squad, a Champions League spot now seems unlikely. Besides, there is a high demand for players like Schneiderlin at the moment given the dearth of quality defensive midfielders in Europe, and the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and more could come calling this summer. The Saints did exceptionally well to keep him in the summer transfer window of 2014, but doing so again this summer will be nothing short of a miracle.
4. Mourinhoa s Chelsea version 2.0 is very good, but not yet great
Sundaya s 1-1 draw against Southampton means that the title race is still not quite finished a but it did confirm one thing. The points record that was set by Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea side of 2004-05 is now beyond reach, with 94 points being the best possible outcome this season for the Blues. Although few Chelsea fans will give that a second thought if they go on to win the league, it is not an entirely meaningless statistic.
The start that Chelsea made to this season had fans and pundits alike waxing lyrical about the potential of the team, and speculating whether it could go the season unbeaten. The Bluesa form in 2015 has been slightly underwhelming however, and their inability to hold on to leads has proved costly time and again. Mourinhoa s side have now dropped 13 points from winning positions a the antithesis of a Jose Mourinho team. The Chelsea manager is right when he says that his two Chelsea sides are not comparable. Whilst this team might have more individual talent and ability, and unquestionably plays the better brand of football, the team of a decade ago was more ruthless and clinical a so much so that going a goal down to them in a match was considered tantamount to losing points. More often than not, all three points.
Whilst there seems to be more belief and mental fortitude about this team compared to last season, it still has a ways to go before it can be mentioned in the same breath as Chelsea version 1.0 in terms of killing the opposition and being ruthlessly clinical on a consistent basis over the course of the season. The potential in this side is extraordinary, however, and winning a domestic double this season could go a long way towards bridging that gap. For now, Jose Mourinho can be content knowing that his very good team is six points clear at the top, with a game in hand, and marching towards the Premier League crown.