Chelsea’s nightmare start to 2023 continued with a damaging and deserved 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge to Premier League relegation-threatened Southampton.
The Blues were vociferously booed from the field at both half-time and full-time after a disjointed performance devoid of almost any attacking cohesion. Bottom-of-the-table Saints, meanwhile, produced a brave, commanding display under caretaker manager Ruben Selles and took the points through James Ward-Prowse’s superb first-half free kick.
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Following on from Wednesday’s unfortunate Champions League defeat at Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea manager Graham Potter made seven changes to his starting XI but saw no positives in his side’s collective display. The incision and intent undone by poor finishing in Germany were conspicuous by their absence against a Saints side who bossed the first period and defended heroically after the break.
Although a spate of attacking substitutions improved the Blues’ play — with Raheem Sterling particularly impactful — a hefty stoppage for an injury to Cesar Azpilicueta broke up the late stages of the contest and any faint hopes of a late-season surge for the Champions League qualification looks baseless for Potter’s side on this evidence.
David Fofana showed some promise in the forward’s first start and defender Wesley Fofana made a welcome return from injury. But, beyond that, there was nothing to cling to on a wretched day for the Blues except the belief that, surely, the only way is up from here.
Almost everything. Little urgency, less cohesion, no apparent understanding of a game plan. A bulging, talented squad on paper is not yet translating into anything approaching a team once it hits the field. Azpilicueta’s departure — which prompted 12 added minutes — ensured a sombre end to an already miserable afternoon.
Manager rating out of 10
3 — If Wednesday’s unfortunate defeat represented at least a tactical step forward, this was a substantial reversal against a Saints side perceived prematch as perfect fodder. With so many new players at his disposal, Potter may be suffering from paralysis by analysis and the need to assess each newcomer on the job. So many questions, but no satisfying answers as yet.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 5 — Called into action straight away with a fine close-range block to deny Paul Onuachu, a feat he later repeated from Adam Armstrong. By no means the first — or last — goalkeeper to be beaten by a Ward-Prowse special, but in retrospect will wonder about the management of his wall for the Saints’ winner.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 4 — Restored at right-back, the captain showed plenty of effort to get up and down the right flank, but the 33-year-old looked heavy-legged throughout. Blazed wastefully into the side-netting with one of Chelsea’s few early openings. Suffered a nasty clash late on and was stretchered off after a lengthy stoppage.
DF Benoit Badiashile, 5 — Given a let-off inside three minutes when dispossessed inside his own area by Onuachu, only for Kepa and Kalidou Koulibaly to snuff out the danger. Grew into the game and produced a solid display afterwards.
DF Kalidou Koulibaly, 4 — Made a hectic start to proceedings. Alert early on to clear Armstrong’s goal-bound effort, but then picked up a booking for a high challenge just moments later, prompting Potter’s decision to replace him with Wesley Fofana at half-time.
DF Ben Chilwell, 4 — Identified as a potential weak point aerially, a move which almost paid off inside 10 minutes when Onuachu’s header dropped just past the far post. Little impact going forward and a generally off-key display.
MF Mateo Kovacic, 4 — Restored in place of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and looked determined to shuffle play forward from the off, but quickly looked jaded and short of ideas without obvious options or coordinated movement in attack. Nevertheless, did well to sprint back in injury-time and deny Saints a near-certain second goal.
MF Enzo Fernandez, 5 — A mixed bag, showing flashes of inspired thinking and skill, but fundamentally struggled with the pace of the game. Still bedding in, but a mildly worrying slip in standards after promising early displays for the Blues.
FW Noni Madueke, 6 –– Comfortably Chelsea’s liveliest outlet in the opening exchanges. Drew a smart stop from Gavin Bazunu after a fine surging run, but went quiet after taking an accidental jab in the eye and was removed for Mykhailo Mudryk midway through the second half.
FW Joao Felix, 5 — Had to drop deeper and deeper to get involved. When a chance finally came to him, in the late stages of the first period, he was up too early and fluffed a presentable headed chance. Far less involvement than his eye-catching turn on Wednesday and summed up his afternoon by floating a dangerous late free kick straight to Bazunu.
FW Mason Mount, 3 — Restored to the starting lineup but did nothing to justify his inclusion. Completely bypassed by the game in the first period. Looked sure to level with a header from Sterling’s cross, but it was flicked out for a corner just before reaching him, ensuring the continuation of a frustrating personal campaign.
FW – David Fofana, 5 — Making his first start since his arrival from Molde, the 20-year-old snatched at his first sight of goal, blazing well wide 13 minutes in, but showed flickers of promise with insightful flicks and passes during his limited involvement before a harsh half- time withdrawal.
FW Raheem Sterling (Fofana, 46′), 6 — Injected much-needed intent into proceedings, quickly sending in a fine cross which was flicked away from the lurking Mount, then seeing a near-certain equalizer brilliantly blocked by Ainsley Maitland-Niles before having another effort cleared off the line.
DF Wesley Fofana (Koulibaly, 46′), 6 — Thrown on in place of the cautioned Koulibaly at half-time, the Frenchman’s steady return to action for the first time since early October marked a rare plus point.
FW Kai Havertz (Mount, 64′), 5 — Replaced the ineffective Mount and had a greater impact than he had from the start in Dortmund. Cleverly teed up Sterling instead of shooting and generally looked lively, but spurned a great opportunity to slip the ball to the unmarked Mudryk.
FW Mykhailo Mudryk (Madueke, 64′), 5 — As ever, on the front foot and keen to make something happen, but unable to find the spark required. More awareness from Havertz would have presented him with a glaring late chance to level, fired a ferocious volley wide with Chelsea’s final attack.
DF Trevoh Chalobah (Azpilicueta, 84′), N/A — A late replacement for the stricken Azpilicueta, basically stationed at the back alone as the Blues pushed forward in muddled numbers.
MF Conor Gallagher (Chilwell, 84), N/A — On for the final stages in place of Chilwell as Potter went for broke. Almost snatched a leveler in injury time, but was denied by Bazunu’s fine block.