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Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Southampton

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Southampton 2-0 in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday, with the Blues setting up an FA Cup final clash with Manchester United on May 19.

Antonio Conte‘s side scored twice in the second half with Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata on the scoresheet against a sorry Saints outfit.

Here’s what we learned as Chelsea have set up a tasty clash with Jose Mourinho next month.


GIROUD AN ELEGANT ASSASSIN

Olivier Giroud is quickly becoming a cult hero at Chelsea. The Frenchman dribbled delicately around three Southampton defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy before prodding home to put his side ahead.

It was a elegant, yet clumsy, goal and summed up Giroud’s penchant for delivering goals of the highest difficulty.

Giroud has now been involved in 22 goals in 26 FA Cup appearances (15 goals, 7 assists), more than any other player in the completion since his debut in 2013.

The Frenchman is now pushing hard to be Chelsea’s first-choice central striker ahead of Alvaro Morata, although the Spaniard did grab a goal late on to wrap up the win.

Giroud has scored four goals in 13 appearances in all competitions since arriving from Arsenal in January but the way he holds the ball up and links with Eden Hazard is a huge plus for Conte. Giroud could also start up top with Morata if Chelsea tweak their system and at the age of 31 there is still plenty of life left in him and not just as a late sub, the role Conte earmarked for him.


COULD CONTE STAY…

Antonio Conte will likely still leave Chelsea at the end of the season but the Italian coach seems to badly want his time at Chelsea to end with a trophy.

But here’s a thought: if Chelsea beat Man United and somehow make it into the top four at Tottenham’s expense (they are five points back with four games to go), will he remain in charge for the final year of his three-year contract?

The Blues cruised into the FA Cup final and looked fired up from the start as Eden Hazard pulled the strings and Giroud made a nuisance of himself.

Conte’s comments all season long suggest he will depart Chelsea this summer and seek a new project, but if he does so after winning the FA Cup (after being runners up last season) to go along with the PL title he won last season, and then finishing fifth, that’s not a bad two years in the PL.

The Italian will depart with his pride and reputation intact even if he doesn’t defeat his old foe Mourinho in the final next month.


SOUTHAMPTON’S STRUGGLES

Saints are in the Premier League’s relegation zone for a reason and their total lack of confidence was clear for all to see at Wembley.

Mark Hughes‘ men have four games left to save themselves but it almost seems as if Saints’ players have resigned themselves to relegation from the Premier League despite sitting just four points from safety. One win in their last 21 PL games (that came against West Brom) tells the story of a side crumbling before our eyes.

After they shipped 12 goals in four Premier League, all of them defeats, Hughes has set Saints up in a 5-3-1-1 formation to try and make them tougher to break down.

It is working, at least defensively, with a 0-0 draw at Leicester on Thursday, but going forward they totally lack any cohesion and only created three real chances on Sunday as Shane Long made a hash of a great opportunity, Charlie Austin hit the post and Nathan Redmond tested Willy Caballero.

Saints are in a really bad place as they now have to find a way to stop themselves hurtling towards relegation. Their game at home against Bournemouth next weekend is a must win. Simple.

Chelsea joins Man Utd in FA Cup Final

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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Chelsea will meet old pal Jose Mourinho in the FA Cup Final after beating Southampton 2-0 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata scored the goals for Antonio Conte‘s men, whose date with Manchester United comes at the same venue on May 19.

Southampton will turn its attention back to the relegation battle, four points behind 17th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Willian hit the cross bar with an early effort as Chelsea looked very much up for the semifinal.

Olivier Giroud had a 39th minute chance zip wide of the frame, as Chelsea posted nine of the first half’s 11 shot attempts while holding 60 percent possession.

Saints would have been happy to get to the locker room at nil-nil.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Twenty-eight seconds into the second half: That’s when Giroud scored, with Chelsea’s first long ball knocked down by Eden Hazard on the edge of the 18 and played to the Frenchman.

Giroud cut between two Saints defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with his right foot.

Hazard curled an effort of his own wide in the 48th minute.

Saints snapped to life, and Shane Long touched around Wily Caballero but too strong to equalize at Wembley.

Nathan Redmond forced a wild save out of Caballero in the 72nd minute, and nearly claimed the corner.

McCarthy tipped a Hazard shot over the bar minutes later.

Morata put it to bed on a cross from his in-tune assist man Cesar Azpilicueta.

The finish was thrilling nevertheless, with Charlie Austin hitting the far post and Saints getting a goal line clearance at the other end.

Arsenal 3-2 Southampton: Welbeck gets last laugh

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  • Saints take early lead
  • Gunners claim advantage by halftime
  • Southampton remains 18th

Danny Welbeck‘s brace helped Arsenal defy the efforts of desperate Southampton in a 3-2 win at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Welbeck had just missed a sitter when he connected with the winner, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also scored for the Gunners.

Arsenal moves to within two points of fifth place Chelsea ahead of the Blues match with West Ham United (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Shane Long and Charlie Austin scored for Saints, who led 1-0 and drew level at 2-2 in the second half. Southampton remains three points back of safety.

Jack Stephens was sent off for Saints in stoppage time, and Mohamed Elneny was also shown a red card in the aftermath of the same scrum.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A goal line clearance came early, with James Ward-Prowse taking a feed from Shane Long and beating Petr Cech but not Calum Chambers.

And Long again threatened for pace moments later as Saints pressed for an opener.

So it was fitting when Long put Saints ahead, taking advantage of a sleeping Shkrodan Mustafi to cut to the near post and redirect a cross beyond the reach of Cech.

Arenal leveld in the 29th minute, with Aubameyang chopped the ball off the ground for a clever nutmegged finish past Alex McCarthy.

Welbeck made it 2-1 in the 38th, leaving McCarthy helpless with a deflected shot from an Alex Iwobi feed.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Both Aubameyang and Granit Xhaka forced top end saves out of McCarthy in the first three minutes of the second half.

Long looked like he had restored the deadlock and the away support had a moment’s joy only to see the flag up. The Irish striker was offside.

Wesley Hoedt then forced Cech into a flying save with a 30-yard effort which may have been destined for the post.

Austin then scored a lunchpail goal, cutting into the box within 80 seconds of subbing into the game to force 2-2. It was a deserved equalizer.

Welbeck missed a sitter when Iwobi spied Wilshere at the back post. The ex-Manchester United man couldn’t get his leg in position to get the ball over the line (with Aubameyang ready for a tap-in, unbeknownst to Welbeck).

He’d get his goal in the 81st minute, stabbing home a header at the back post from an Iwobi cross.

Shambolic Southampton hurtling towards relegation

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For so long they’ve been the poster boys of how to run a Premier League club.

An academy envied around the globe. A sell high, buy low player recruitment policy which has worked superbly. Overachieving season after season. Plucking managerial gems from overseas to work wonders. Europa League campaigns. Cup runs. Everything they’ve done has gone smoothly with four-straight top eight finishes in the PL table.

Until now. With just one win in their last 18 Premier League games, Southampton are staring relegation in the face in one of the biggest surprises of the current Premier League campaign.

But when you look at Southampton right now, should we be this surprised?

The South Coast club are hurtling towards relegation as their increasingly shambolic season hit a new low on Saturday in the 3-0 defeat at West Ham with players not only looking out of their depth but also showing a distinct lack of desire in a pivotal moment.

With seven games to go Saints occupy the final relegation place and despite everything they’re just two points from safety. They may still get out of this but it will likely be down to the poor form of Crystal Palace, Huddersfield and Swansea rather than their own good form in the final months of the season as they face five of the current top nine in their remaining games.

In his first Premier League game in charge of Southampton, Mark Hughes saw his team roll over early on and lose 3-0. It was the second game in a row Southampton had lost 3-0 to direct relegation rivals and they are running out of chances to save themselves from being relegated from the Premier League for just the second time in club history.

On the face of it, their squad has the talent to easily be sitting in midtable but with 13 draws (the most in the PL this season) they’ve often seemed scared to be positive and take the game to their opponents. On paper they should be battling Leicester, Everton and Watford to finish in seventh or eighth place. But something isn’t right. They are a nice team to watch, at teams, with plenty of possession and sideways passes but there is not cutting edge, no drive and no real purpose to their player.

Too often it appears that their players are drifting, going through the motions and living off the success of the past few seasons when everyone exclaimed: “What a wonderful season from Southampton. How did they came doing this?”

This squad which has been so hungry for success over the past six years since Saints were promoted back to the Premier League seem to have suddenly lost their appetite. With long-term contracts dished out to Fraser Forster, Jack Stephens, Ryan Bertrand, Cedric Soares, Oriol Romeu and others, it appears this Saints team are in cruise control as huge deals were handed out mostly as a reward for performances in the past few seasons. The players must take most of the blame.

But the fans and board also have to take their share of their blame. Claude Puel was fired last season amid plenty of fan unrest for finishing in eighth place and reaching a cup final because his team were “too boring” to watch. How costly could that unrest prove?

Nothing changed under Puel’s replacement, Mauricio Pellegrino, who was fired at the start of this month after just five wins in 30 PL games. And nothing appears to be changing quickly under Hughes. You can question the desire of this group, but maybe they aren’t as good as we think. The sacking of two managers on the spin by the board in the expectation that some kind of miracle turnaround will occur must also be questioned.

Quite simply the culture of endlessly selling on their best players for huge profits, then replacing them with young, hungry players from elsewhere in Europe, has come back to bite them. Hard.

Nathan Redmond was supposed to be the direct replacement for Sadio Mane. He hasn’t been anywhere near Mane’s level. Wesley Hoedt came in as Virgil Van Dijk‘s replacement and has since lost his place in the Dutch squad for his shaky displays. Charlie Austin replaced Graziano Pelle but has been injured most of his time at Saints. Victor Wanyama was replaced by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Mario Lemina who were both at fault for the first two goals at West Ham.

When you start to add all of that up, it starts to make sense why Southampton are in the position they’re in. They no longer have a clear playing identity. Their recruitment team have stopped unearthing gems for relative peanuts. Their academy has stopped churning out ready-made internationals a la Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana.

Austin, Saints’ top scorer this season with six goals, returned from a three-month injury layoff on Saturday and looked stunned when speaking to the media after the defeat at West Ham.

“It just wasn’t good enough and we got what we deserved,” Austin said. “Seven games left, we’ve got to get out of this hole. We’ve given ourselves a massive mountain to climb now. We’ve got the players to do it but off that performance, we need to improve fast. We need to win and we need to win fast. That is it.”

Austin sounded hollow when he said he believed in this current set of players and the new management team to turn this around.

Saints have Arsenal away, Chelsea at home and Leicester away in their next three Premier League games, with the distraction of an FA Cup semifinal against Chelsea at Wembley on Apr. 22 also looming.

They simply have to cause upsets, just like they used to in the past at their tight, atmospheric home at the Dell as during the 1990s they pulled off great escape after great escape as one of the smallest clubs in the Premier League. Their current manager Hughes was part of some of those Saints teams and he needs to instill some kind of spirit, some kind of togetherness in a squad of international caliber players who seem to think they are too good to be playing in a team battling against relegation.

For Hughes, his first 45 minutes in charge of Saints in the Premier League was a horror show as he admitted the performance “surprised him greatly” given what he had seen in training since he took over.

“It maybe emphasized some of the problems the team has had of late in this season. We’re going to have to turn it around very quickly,” Hughes said. “We are running out of games. There has to be an understanding that we are in trouble here and we need to turn it around quickly.”

Among the players there doesn’t seem to be an understanding, or a realization, of the deep trouble they are in. Only games against Bournemouth and Swansea in their final seven outings represent realistic chances to gain points to save themselves.

The last time Southampton were relegated from the Premier League, in 2005, they spiraled into financial meltdown and almost went bust as they ended up at the bottom of the third tier on -10 points and were saved by a Swiss billionaire at the last moment. Their fall won’t be as dramatic this time around but these players don’t seem to have grasped the severity of the situation they’re in.

Under Chinese ownership since the start of this season, the Gao Family will not have expected to have bought 80 percent of Southampton for $294 million and see them struggling in the relegation zone.

Nobody did. And especially not the players. Not even now.

That is the biggest problem of them all and one that you can’t see Saints solving in the next seven games.

Southampton’s shambolic season has reached the pivotal juncture. It is now sink or swim time.

Right now you’d bet your mortgage on Saints sinking like a stone towards the second tier.

West Ham 3-0 Southampton: Hammers obliterate Saints

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  • Hammers strike three times in first half
  • Saints remain in relegation zone
  • Arnautovic scores twice

West Ham battered Southampton 3-0 at the London Stadium as the Hammers came flying out of the traps in a huge relegation scrap as David Moyes got the better of Mark Hughes during his debut Premier League game in charge of Saints.

Joao Mario gave West Ham an early lead and Marko Arnautovic struck twice to make it 3-0 at the break with Southampton putting in a woeful display. This win saw the mood at the London Stadium among the home fans change drastically compared to the unrest and violent scenes during West Ham’s last home game against Burnley earlier this month.

With the win West Ham move to 33 points, five points above Saints who occupy the final relegation spot.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Southampton started well but were soon all over the place as West Ham went ahead despite losing Michail Antonio through injury.

From a Saints corner, Mario Lemina gave the ball away and West Ham broke with Cheikhou Kouyate picking out Mario on the edge of the box and the Portuguese playmaker slammed home to make it 1-0.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Soon after it should have been 2-0 to West Ham as Arnautovic went clean through but slotted wide. Soon after he did make it 2-0 as the Austrian forward headed home Mario’s cross from the right. Delirium at the London Stadium.

The Hammers should have been out of sight by half time as Arnautovic was denied by Alex McCarthy and then lashed his follow up wide from an offside position. But it was 3-0 at the break as Saints were hit with yet another counter. Arthur Masuaku drove forward down the left and his cross was volleyed home by Arnautovic. Game over.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

In the second half it was a case of damage limitation for Saints as Charlie Austin had a shot deflected over the bar.

Southampton improved with West Ham going through the motions to see out a comfortable win as Austin had another effort deflected out for a corner.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Mario flashed a shot just over for West Ham and Arnautovic curled a shot just wide as he went in search of his hat trick.

Aaron Cresswell clipped the crossbar with an audacious volley late on as West Ham eased to victory to lift themselves away from the relegation zone, while Southampton remain in trouble in the bottom three.