Chelsea secured a sensational comeback at St. Mary’s Stadium as the Blues defeated Southampton 3-2 on Saturday afternoon.
Olivier Giroud came on as a 61st minute substitution, right after Southampton’s had taken a 2-0 lead. The French striker went on to score two quickfire goals, with Eden Hazard bagging one of his own.
Southampton had started the match well with a Dusan Tadic goal in the 21st minute and a Jan Bednarek goal in the 60th minute, but they were unable to hold off Chelsea’s attack late in the game.
The two teams will face off again next week in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium.
Here are five things we learned from Chelsea’s comeback win over Southampton.
Chelsea defence switches off
The two Southampton goals were the result of slow reactions from Chelsea, or to be more precise, a total lack of reaction.
Ryan Bertrand found open space down the left flank in the 21st minute, receiving the ball at blazing speed. Cesar Azpilicueta was caught higher up the pitch and on his backfoot. The Spaniard was unable to catch up to his former teammate, leading to a centering pass for Tadic’s goal.
Bednarek’s goal was from a free kick that was crossed into the box. Marcos Alonso slowed down and watched helplessly as the Saints defender had an easy tap in for the goal.
Both goals were stark representations of Chelsea’s season as a whole. They were simply too slow to react to quick acceleration, just as Antonio Conte is slow to react to tactics that don’t work.
Giroud saves the day
With 20 minutes left in the match, it looked to be like another Chelsea collapse.
Tired of the same story over and over, Giroud flipped the script with a sudden goal in the 70th minute. Typically, a cross like that into the box would just be cleared. The French striker’s aerial ability is top notch, and he was able to put a powerful header into the corner while being marked by two defenders.
Hazard would score five minutes later to even up the score, but a draw wouldn’t be enough to please Chelsea fans. Cue Giroud once again.
Chelsea had all the momentum going forward, forcing Southampton to defend from within their own box. Giroud found a pocket of space, and when the ball fell to his feet he quickly put it into the back of the net for his second goal.
Giroud is Chelsea’s most complete striker at the moment who would really help in attack. Hopefully his performance in his 30-minute cameo will be enough to warrant a starting spot in the FA Cup semifinal against the very same Saints.
Saints can’t hold a lead
The loss at home to Chelsea was Southampton’s eighth game where they dropped points after leading at some point in the match. Had those matches gone their way, they could have comfortably been just above midtable and perhaps fighting for a Europa League spot.
Saturday was a case of shutting down before the final whistle was blown. The scoreline at the 60th-minute mark would suggest that the Saints were in the driver’s seat. It looked like Southampton’s game for the taking.
Instead, Chelsea came storming back with three unanswered goals. Mark Hughes was defeated again by a Chelsea side that already beat him 4-0 and 5-0 this season when he was manager of Stoke City.
The inability to hold the lead could spell the demise of Southampton in top flight football.
Where is Antonio Rudiger?
The German defender had started and played the full 90 minutes in the last four games for Chelsea, but he was notably left out of the squad against Southampton on Saturday.
Rudiger criticized the tactics of his team after the 1-1 draw to West Ham: “For me, it’s not easy to explain. I don’t understand why after 1-0 we always drop and let the opponent get more ball possession.”
The club have yet to give an explanation for his absence, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’s been banished for his comments. Antonio Conte demands loyalty, and anyone “stepping out of line” would not be welcome. Diego Costa is a prime example of this.
Rudiger has been one of Chelsea’s best long passes from deep, and his defence has been more than adequate. The goals that the team conceded should be a reflection of the squad’s effort and not Rudiger’s alone. That’s why it’s baffling that the defender was not even named to the bench.
Conte left his team without any backup central defenders for the trip to St. Mary’s Stadium. If the reason was Rudiger’s comments, then that speaks a lot about the manager’s character.
Saints fighting for safety
Time is running out for Southampton with only five games left in the season. They’ll be needing their fellow clubs just above them to make some mistakes along the way.
One of the key matches will be away to Swansea City in early May. The Welsh club are four points ahead of the Saints, and that match could easily change fortunes for both clubs as the season comes to a close.
Four losses in a row spells trouble for Southampton. They really need to turn their form around at the tail end of the season if they want to stay in the Premier League.