15/03/2015: Chelsea 1-1 Saints
Saints held league leaders Chelsea to a draw following a determined display at Stamford Bridge. Ronald Koeman's side caused the visitors plenty of problems, particularly in the first half, but also defended well as a team throughout. Both sides had opportunities to win it, but were denied by some inspired goalkeeping. The point lifts Saints one place to 6th.
Koeman opted for pace over power, dropping Graziano Pelle for the first time this season in favour of Shane Long. Sadio Mane played just behind the Irishman, with Steven Davis and Dusan Tadic operating deeper out wide. Morgan Schneiderlin started just in front of the defence, with Victor Wanyama acting as the second anchor.
Saints had defended effectively prior to Chelsea's 11th minute opener. The away side were compact and found it relatively easy to break up Chelsea's attacks. The goal came when Saints were caught on the counter from their own corner. Eden Hazard set off down the left, and was quickly involved again on the other side of the pitch. He passed the ball back to Branislav Ivanovic, who floated a deep cross into the box for Diego Costa to head in.
Saints responded very well to that early setback. Mane forced a great save from Thibaut Courtois on 13, with Tadic curling over on the follow-up. Five minutes later Saints were awarded a penalty when Nemanja Matic hacked down Mane. Courtois got a slight touch on the ball with his trailing leg, but there was just enough power on Tadic's central effort for it to go in.
Saints grew in confidence after the goal. Koeman's side got in behind Chelsea's backline on several occasions and had more than one route of attack. There was plenty of incisive play between Long, Mane and Tadic, but the full-backs also got forward to good effect at times. Saints even utilised the long ball on occasions. The visitors looked a lot more composed on the ball than their opponents during the first-half. Chelsea attempted to replicate their goal by using their full-backs to pump balls into Costa, but to little success.
On 30 Tadic tested Courtois with a sharp shot on the left. Long nearly scrambled the ball in soon after. A few minutes later Long and Mane combined well, with the latter firing straight at the keeper. Schneiderlin came in from deep before hooking the ball well wide from a 41st minute corner. Chelsea did see a bit more of the ball towards the end of the first-half. Costa headed over in stoppage time.
Saints started from where they left off early in the second half, with Toby Alderweireld testing Courtois with a well struck free-kick. Chelsea soon turned the screw after Ramires replaced Matic, however. On 55 Jose Fonte recovered well as Costa looked to take advantage of some hesitation in the Saints defence.
The home side were more direct and intense for much of the second-half, but Saints still looked threatening on the counter at times. On 61 Long had a shot blocked after Tadic had brilliantly made space for himself. Davis' free-kick on the left was straight at Courtois. On 72 Fraser Forster made an instinctive double save, first from Oscar and then from Hazard. The England goalkeeper was called on several times during the last 15 minutes. On 84 Mane blazed over after being brilliantly played in on the left by Schneiderlin.
The last few minutes were extremely nervy for all connected with Southampton. Forster made another fine stop from Azpilicueta as the game headed into stoppage time. Chelsea then had a series of chances from the resulting corner before John Terry hammered the ball wide. In the end Saints hung on for a well-deserved point.
One of the most enjoyable Saints games for some time. The team looked as dynamic going forward as they did in their early season pomp. Equally pleasing was the cohesion within the team. Saints were really organised at the back. Naturally Chelsea still had chances, but that's to be expected. They were nullified for long periods of the game, and on the few occasions they did manage to break through Forster was in inspired form. The decision to go with Long and Mane proved to be the right one. The pair caused problems with their speed and intelligence against Chelsea's relatively slow central defensive partnership. Schneiderlin has really boosted the team since his return to fitness too, as you would expect. There was so much to be pleased about from a Saints perspective. If the team maintains this form it should make for an exciting finish to the season.
Forster: 8. Might have done better for the Chelsea goal, but more than made amends in the second half with a string of superb saves
Clyne: 8. Another player who rose to the occasion. Some strong tackles and some good bursts forward
Fonte: 8. Threw his body in the way of so much. Made a number of well-timed last ditch challenges
Alderweireld: 8. Looked pretty sharp considering it was his first match back. As calm as ever in defence and classy on the ball
Bertrand: 8. Linked up well down the left flank, particularly in the first half. Barely put a foot wrong at the back too
Schneiderlin: 9. Won the ball back time and time again. An awesome showing
Wanyama: 8. Like Schneiderlin tackling was excellent. Distributed the ball quickly
Davis: 7. Took a while to get into the game. Passing was sloppy at times, but looked good in the final third just before coming off. Showed off a great first touch
Tadic: 8. Most impressive showing for some time. Movement terrific. Opened up plenty of space
Mane: 8. Caused havoc for the Chelsea defence with his pace. Got beyond his man on numerous occasions. Only started to tire during the last 10 minutes
Long: 8. A good outlet to have up top. Combined well with Mane, as well as chasing hard and competing well in the air
Djuricic: 6. Drew a few fouls with some clever play at the end of the game. Booked for a rash challenge
Ward-Prowse: 5. Didn't do much
Pelle: Helped Saints play out time with a few neat flicks
Chelsea - Diego Costa (11)
Saints - Tadic (19)
Attendance - 41,624 (1,400 Saints fans)
Referee - Mike Dean
Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Matic (Ramires 53), Fabregas, Willian (Cuadrado 83), Oscar (Remy 82), Hazard, Diego Costa
Subs not used: Cech, Filipe Luis, Zouma, Drogba
Saints: Forster, Clyne, Fonte, Alderweireld, Bertrand, Schneiderlin, Wanyama, S Davis (Ward-Prowse 71), Tadic (Djuricic 71), Mane, Long (Pelle 83)
Subs not used: K Davis, Yoshida, Gardos, Targett