Sublime Southampton sink Chelsea with Sadio Mane magic
Premier League champions Chelsea’s incredible collapse continued, as Southampton came back from a goal down at Stamford Bridge to romp to a 3-1 win, compounding the embattled Blues’ worst start for over three decades.
In the opening half, there were signs of life from this recently below-par Chelsea side, with the Blues briefly beginning to look somewhat like the title-winning team of last term, but a bright start belied continuing troubles.
Wideman Willian worked the wings and proved a goal hero once again by grabbing his third in as many matches. Roundly-panned for being all graft and no end product, the Brazilian is one Blues star to have emerged from this recent slump with reputation intact.
Enigmatic Eden Hazard was blatantly hacked down in only the 10th minute by Stamford Bridge old boy Oriol Romeu, with the Spaniard now wearing Saints’ stripes. Willian stepped up to take the resulting free-kick, having seemingly perfected his striking set-piece technique, and his perfectly placed effort sailed over the Southampton area and into the top right corner.
Wily Willian caused yet more consternation for Ronald Koeman, as another former Stamford Bridge starlet in Ryan Bertrand blotted his copybook, with the left back seeing yellow for lashing out at the buoyant Brazilian.
Jose Mourinho’s men, despite restoring skipper John Terry to the starting XI, were still evidently shaky in defence and failure to kill of their south coast visitors eventually came back to haunt the champions.
Saints had two penalty shouts rebuffed, with Ramires’ catching of scampering Sadio Mane’s foot the most obvious. Though the Senegal striker, a majestic menace throughout, saw his claims ignored and minutes later was booked for a doubtful dive.
The travelling team took that decision in their stride and clearly grew in confidence, as stand-in stopper Asmir Begovic was called upon several times to save the Blues’ blushes before break, pawing away a Victor Wanyama wide shot, before becoming big to deny Bertrand.
Not even Begovic could prevent the eventual 43th minute equaliser, however, as Cedric Soares’ superb cross-field pass picked out Graziano Pelle, who ably brought the ball down for on-rushing Steven Davis to lethally lash in low and left.
Mane continued to toy with Chelsea, and would have put Southampton ahead within two minutes of the re-start had Begovic not read Dusan Tadic’s terrifically-timed ball, with the skillful Serbian later leaving compatriot Branislav Ivanovic toiling in his wake.
Another contentious moment soon occurred, as RadamEl Falcao was another to be carded for simulation, as the striker took a tumble in the penalty area after a fleeting collision with Maarten Stekelenburg, just after the ball trickled away.
In an almost immediate sucker-punch, Mourinho’s decision to return Terry to a starting spot also came under intense scrutiny, as sloppy defending left mischievous Mane one-on-one with the ageing skipper. The Saints sharpshooter tricked and turned the captain, finally firing in to put Southampton ahead.
Poacher Pelle then made it a princely third around the 72nd mark, as a poor pass from Cesar Azpilicueta allowed Mane to counter quickly. Unable to deal with the Senegalese’s raw pace, Chelsea crumbled, allowing Pelle acres of space to clinically dispatch.
Mourinho reacted by hauling off half-time substitute Nemanja Matic abruptly for forward Loic Remy, in a last throw of the dice, but the Blues still looked collectively bereft of attacking and defensive ideas.
On a day when title rivals Manchester City soared to a 6-1 victory against Newcastle United, Blues fans will rightly be wondering how the Premier League champions, now 16/1 with Coral to somehow retain the trophy, still stuck in the bottom-half of the table, have fallen so far.