Chelsea tightened their grip on third place on the Premier League table as they narrowly beat Southampton 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Chelsea dominated the proceedings from the word go, and it was largely one-way traffic in the first half. But, frustration grew as the minutes passed by as the likes of Willian, Pedro, N’Golo Kante and Marcos Alonso all came close to breaking the deadlock, without managing to do so.
The latter finally managed to ease the growing nerves at the stroke of half-time though, as his sublime free kick beat the wall and Fraser Forster to send Chelsea leading at the break. The late first half goal brought about a response from the visitors as the game got even livelier in the final 45 minutes.
Charlie Austin was the biggest threat for Mauricio Pellegrino’s men, coming close to netting the equaliser on two occasions, only to be denied by Thibaut Courtois. On the other end, Alonso, Alvaro Morata and Cesc Fabregas were thwarted by Forster as the game ended in the narrow victory for the Blues.
Full-time: Chelsea 1-0 Southampton 🙌
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 16, 2017
With Manchester City winning later on the day, the West Londoners remained 14 points behind the league leaders while consolidating their place on the table. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Antonio Conte’s men.
Thibaut Courtois: 8/10
After a largely quiet first half, Courtois had to stay alert in the final 45 minutes of the game to ensure that his side maintained its slender advantage while also managing to keep his clean sheet. Two saves from Charlie Austin were especially crucial and highlighted his importance for Antonio Conte & co.
Cesar Azpilicueta: 7/10
Yet another consistent and solid outing by Azpilicueta, who is remarkably showing no signs of fatigue despite playing week in week out. On Saturday, the Spaniard defended smartly, organising the back-line to concede very little chances while shutting down almost all the threat that came his way. The provider of zen in the side.
Andreas Christensen: 7/10
Andreas Christensen’s pass accuracy over the last seven games:
98% v Southampton 🎯
98% v Huddersfield 🎯
88% v West Ham 🎯
91% v Newcastle 🎯
100% v Swansea 🎯
96% v Liverpool 🎯
96% v West Brom 🎯
Calm head at the back. pic.twitter.com/1owUjYQIVD
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) December 16, 2017
The ever-improving Dane was solid once again as he neutralised most of the Southampton threat that came centrally. But, he had very little to do on the whole, either defensively or on the ball, with the visitors not testing him or the Blues much, as a result of which he saw very little of the ball.
Gary Cahill: 7/10
The Chelsea captain was back into the side, replacing Antonio Rudiger, and he played like he had a point to prove. Largely solid while defending, Cahill was quite adventurous when the hosts had the possession, with Southampton seldom threatening. With the Englishman playing like he did on Saturday, Conte would only be delighted to have four in-form defenders.
Victor Moses: 6/10
A typically tireless performance by the Nigerian, who worked hard to absorb all the pressure ahead of Azpilicueta while also charging forward with purpose. Not a bad performance by any means, but it was just that he was overshadowed by the wing-back on the opposite flank, with little action on his side.
N’Golo Kante: 7/10
Kante’s performance was a major reason why Chelsea’s back-line wasn’t troubled a lot on Saturday. Calm and composed as always, the Frenchman closed his opponents down quickly. At the same time, he did not shy down from having a go when moving forward too, with Forster denying him in the first half.
But, he looked increasingly tired as the game wore on, and he would be hoping that Conte gives him some rest when Chelsea face Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup.
Tiemoue Bakayoko: 8/10
Tiemoue Bakayoko against Southampton:
🎯 Successful passes: 57/59 (97 %)
🏃🏽 Successful take-ons: 3/3 (100 %)
🔙 Ball recoveries: 9
💥 Shots: 3
🔑 Key passes: 3
He’s getting there. 💪🏼 pic.twitter.com/uXb0hhHSmZ
— Chelsea News App (@CFCNewsApp) December 17, 2017
The nightmarish performances seem to be a thing of the past, with Bakayoko looking much improved once again. In particular, his passing was top notch on the night, complemented by a fantastic pass completion rate of 96.6 per cent.
The Frenchman was successful with all three of his attempted long balls, took three shots and completed three dribbles, and looks to be at home in a midfield pivot. Patience and a confidence in his abilities are evidently paying off, slowly but surely.
Marcos Alonso: 9/10
A few rests over the last month seem to have done wonders for the form of Alonso, who produced another eye catching performance on Saturday. His scintillating free-kick made him the joint-highest scoring defender this season, with four goals, although his outing was much more than that.
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 17, 2017
With very little defending to do on the night, the Spaniard seemed to be having a blast, constantly getting himself into dangerous positions and attempting six shots – twice as much as any other player on the pitch. A late yellow soured things though, with Alonso set to miss the midweek cup fixture now.
A fine week continued for Willian who, despite having nothing to show for his efforts, was a lively character on the field for Chelsea. The Brazilian was a nippy customer with his movement, completing six dribbles, while playing the joint-most key passes in the game (6).
His shooting could improve slightly, but that is just nitpicking at best. In such a run of form, Willian is likely to continue in the side as Chelsea look to build more momentum and heap the pressure on Manchester United.
Eden Hazard: 8/10
Another performance when Hazard showed that he is at home in the ‘False Nine’ role just as much as any other. As ever, the Belgian was a menace for the defenders to negate, with his movement making it tough to mark him.
Eden Hazard vs Southampton:
36 passes (80%)
10 duels won
7 successful dribbles
2 key passes
1 disallowed goal
Decent game. #EH10
— Mod (@HazardChaos) December 16, 2017
The only down point of his performance was the lack of a target man in the box, something that he’ll need to become as he gets more games under his belt in the role.
A slightly underwhelming performance by Pedro, who just wasn’t as effective as the likes of Alonso, Hazard and Willian. The Spaniard did combine well with Alonso on the left flank, but had very little moments of note. Needs to pull his socks up, with Willian looking more of a threat for now.
Cesc Fabregas: 7/10
Fabregas made a drastic change to the proceedings upon replacing Pedro, as Chelsea took the game by the scruff of its neck. While the Blues could not double their tally in the 25 minutes that the Spain international was on the pitch, there were plenty of chances to do so, largely courtesy Fabregas.
Alvaro Morata: 6/10
The near week-long resting period seems to have worked well for Morata, who looked fresh and without any lasting injury problems on Saturday. In his short stint on the pitch, the Spaniard also highlighted his importance as the star striker, stretching the Southampton defence.
Davide Zappacosta: N/A
On for the final few minutes, Zappacosta had very little time to do anything of note in the game.