Saints went down to a second consecutive defeat in a difficult encounter at Stamford Bridge. Mauricio Pochettino's men played some exciting football during the first 40 minutes, but were made to rue their profligacy in the attacking third. Chelsea gained control of the game following the introduction of Frank Lampard, and looked completely at ease for the rest of the match. The result takes Saints down to 7th.
Saints scored in the first minute the last time they faced a Jose Mourinho side at Stamford Bridge, and repeated the trick again on this occasion. A suicidal Michael Essien back-pass led to a simple chance for Jay Rodriguez. The England forward calmly slotted past Petr Cech after only 13 seconds to make it 1-0. Saints did well to put a lethargic Chelsea side under pressure early on. The home side's passing was poor. Saints in contrast were excellent on the ball, and defended intelligently as a unit.
Pochettino's side threatened numerous times on the break, but couldn't quite find that killer final ball. Adam Lallana dragged a shot wide following great build-up play on 39 minutes. The first 45 was played at an extremely high pace, with both teams matching up well in terms of intensity. Much of the action was contested in the middle of the pitch, with a plethora of feisty tackles flying in. Saints probably just about edged it, until right at the end of the first-half. The visitors dominated possession, with the midfield double pivot of Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama neutralising Chelsea's potent attacking threat.
Jose Mourinho had gone bold by naming the three playmakers Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard from the start. Saints did pretty well to contain the skilful trio for most of the first half, but things did start to open up just before the break. Jose Fonte and Dejan Lovren had made a series of brilliant challenges to thwart Chelsea's attackers, but it was goalkeeper Artur Boruc who was required to be alert on 44, when Fernando Torres headed towards goal. Seconds later Juan Mata curled just over. Chelsea's late improvement was due in no small part to the introduction of Frank Lampard, who replaced Oscar on 41 minutes.
Chelsea made a second change at the start of the 2nd half, with Demba Ba replacing the awful Essien. Both substitutions made a huge impact, with Mourinho switching to a 4-4-2. Ba caused problems with his physicality and Torres also stepped it up. Chelsea always looked in control, with Saints never once threatening to score a second. An equaliser was inevitable. It eventually arrived on 55 minutes. Lampard's corner was headed forward by Branislav Ivanovic. Ba flicked the ball on to the post, with Gary Cahill nodding in on the rebound.
Chelsea never looked back from that point, and continued to patiently pour forward. It was 2-1 on 62 minutes when John Terry's header looped over Paulo Gazzaniga, who had replaced the injured Boruc immediately after the equaliser. Pochettino stuck an extra man up top, with Rickie Lambert coming on for Schneiderlin, who picked up a knock. Steven Davis had also replaced James Ward-Prowse, but neither change made much different. Saints struggled to regain the rhythm they had displayed in the first half. Dani Osvaldo tried a couple of long range efforts late on, but that was about it. Ba wrapped things up on 90 minutes. The Senegalese striker came very close earlier on, but still had time to grab his customary goal against Southampton. Ba slid in ahead of Lovren following a Ramires cross.
There's no disgrace in losing away at Chelsea. They were simply a lot better than us. Saints were well organised, with a solid game-plan, but were outclassed in the 2nd half by a wily opponent packed with world class talent. Once again some poor decision making in front of goal cost us. Chelsea were well below their best for much of the first half, and perhaps we should have punished them further. As well as we have progressed in recent times, the last couple of weeks have proved there is a bit of a gulf between us and the very top sides in this league. Improvements need to be made going forward if we are to break into the next level. Maybe that can still come within this squad. It's a very young team with plenty of room to grow. I still expect us to finish the season in a strong position, but the next few weeks could prove to be as tough as any. A relentless run of tricky fixtures awaits. The good thing is that by the end of the year we will have already played most of the top sides away from home, so even if it does go horribly wrong up until New Year's, we should be well placed in come charging back in 2014.
Boruc: 7. The better side of Boruc. Kept Saints ahead for longer than they would have been otherwise. Believed to be out for six weeks now, which is a real blow
Clyne: 7. Not quite at his absolute best, but solid enough, with some decent runs down the right flank
Fonte: 7. Did a great job of keeping Torres relatively quiet in the first half, but not quite as impressive after the break
Lovren: 7. First half tackle on Ivanovic was timed to perfection. Like Fonte dropped off a little in the 2nd half
Shaw: 7. Linked with a big money move to Chelsea in the morning papers. Mourinho and the rest of the home staff wouldn't have been discouraged by what they saw. Usually in the right place at the right time
Wanyama: 8. Imposed his strength on the game. A very good performance
Schneiderlin: 7. Second strong showing at Stamford Bridge in as many seasons
Ward-Prowse: 7. Set piece delivery surprisingly disappointing, but largely excellent defensively
Lallana: 6. Some decent running, but often made the wrong decisions on the ball
Rodriguez: 7. Looked dangerous throughout the first half, but near enough anonymous in the second
Osvaldo: 6. Started brightly, but looked increasingly isolated as the game wore on. Visibly frustrated at the team's second half showing
Gazzaniga: 5. Some decent distribution, but might have done better with the final goal. Big chance for him or Kelvin Davis now that Boruc is out
Davis: 5. Didn't really add a lot
Lambert: Nothing of note to really mention. Didn't see enough of the ball