SOUTHAMPTON — Chelsea beat Southampton 2-0 at St Mary’s on Sunday as Antonio Conte‘s side underlined their Premier League title credentials.
In a game which saw Southampton dominate possession but Chelsea look much more dangerous, it was a deserved win for the west London club as they sit one-point off to spot with 10 games of the season gone.
COUNTERING, LETHAL CHELSEA
For vast swathes of this game, Southampton had the ball and the play but couldn’t break down a stubborn block of seven Chelsea players. As soon as Chelsea went 1-0 up, it played right into their game plan.
This new-look 3-4-3 formation was conducive to sitting back, asking Saints to try and break them down and then countering quickly. They did it expertly.
In the first half Costa broke free on the break but Fraser Forster denied him. In the second half Victor Moses was unleashed at the back post from another Chelsea break and somehow a combination of Costa and Pedro couldn’t squeeze the ball home. Chelsea were picking Saints off at will and all the time they never truly looked like conceding. They starved Southampton of any space in the key areas in and around the box.
Following their 3-0 thumping at Arsenal and the defeat against Liverpool last month, Conte switched to a 3-4-3 formation. Chelsea has now won four-straight games, scoring 13 goals and conceding zero.
ProSoccerTalk asked Conte last week if the new defensive style of play is impressing him more than the wins.
“After two defeats and conceding two or three goals in every game, it was important for us to change something and to find a new solution. I think this suit is very good for the team and our squad. Now we must continue,” Conte said. “I always thought that the system is not important. It is more important, the commitment to trust in the work and work very hard and also to follow the principles and my idea of football. That pleased me because when you see this in the game you go in your house and you are happy.”
It’s safe to say this style of play is working well and Conte is finding his feet in England. He made a big call to change the formation and the ideology of his side but it is suiting his players and it is allowing the likes of Costa, who netted a superb goal to seal the win, Pedro, N'Golo Kante and Hazard to thrive.
HAZARD ON FIRE
Southampton’s manager Claude Puel gave Eden Hazard his debut in Lille’s first team as a 16-year-old on Nov. 24, 2007. Chelsea’s Belgian magician handed Puel a reminder exactly why he did that.
After just five minutes he scored in his third-straight Premier League game, as he made the most of a defensive lapse on the left-side of Southampton’s defense. He took a static Steven Davis to the byline and cut inside before lashing a low shot in at the near post which went through Forster’s legs. It was a glimpse of Hazard at his best.
He was “at it” on Sunday, as he has been for most games recently. Hazard curled an effort on goal after jinxing in from the left flank in the first half and then came close to getting on the end of a Marcos Alonso cross at the start of the second half and he then cut inside and curled another shot goalwards which Forster parried. He always looked dangerous and Saints’ right back Cuco Martina will be having nightmares about Hazard for weeks.
For Hazard, he looks like the player who steered Chelsea to the title in the 2014-15 season as man thought he was approaching a place on an immortal pedestal alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Now, he’s not back to that level of performance consistently but he’s certainly threatening to lead another title Chelsea charge.
VAN DIJK STANDS OUT IN BIG WEEK FOR SAINTS
In a disappointing display for a Saints team who hadn’t lost a Premier League game in five previous outings, the one positive was the play of Virgil can Dijk. If there’s a better center back in the Premier League than Van Dijk, I haven’t seen him.
The Dutch international did his best to not only hold Southampton’s defense together with several well-timed tackles but he also got attacks started. The 25-year-old is fast-becoming one of the most sought after central defenders in Europe and it would be a shock if some of the Premier League’s biggest teams don’t come calling in January and next summer.
He has no weaknesses. He can win headers, is intelligent when reading the game and his range of passing is impressive. If John Stones is worth over $70 million, then how much is Van Dijk worth? In just over a year at Saints since joining from Celtic for $16 million and in that time he has improved massively, adding sensibility to match his mazy runs forward. The only criticism of Van Dijk this season is that he has missed big chances to score against Hapoel Be’er Sheva and Inter Milan in Saints’ UEFA Europa League campaign. His record of popping up with big goals in the past suggests he will put that right soon enough.
Speaking of the Europa League, this Thursday Saints host Inter Milan in perhaps the biggest game, prestige wise, in club history. With Group K wide open (Sparta Prague sit top on six points, Saints and Be’er Sheva both have four points and Inter has three through three games) it is a huge moment in Saints’ season. They’ll have to bounce back from fruitless encounter against Chelsea which saw them dominate play but fail to create any clear cut chances.