London (AFP) – Southampton bolstered their hopes of top-flight survival with a 2-0 victory at Chelsea on Thursday as the Blues lost consecutive home games in the Premier League for the first time since 2011.
Frank Lampard’s young side kicked off on the back of a tactically inspired victory away to his mentor Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur that banished temporarily the bad memories of the home defeat by injury-ravaged Bournemouth.
But this Boxing Day clash saw another south coast side in Southampton enjoy success at Stamford Bridge.
Michael Obafemi put the Saints ahead in the 31st minute with the second Premier League goal of his career and Nathan Redmond made it 2-0 to the visitors some 17 minutes from time.
Southampton’s second straight away win saw them climb to 14th place, three points clear of the relegation zone.
Chelsea, who remained fourth despite this loss, started too slowly and made several mistakes before the visitors opened the scoring.
Significantly, the Blues have kept only four clean sheets this season, and they lacked the guile to breach a Southampton side that was then content to sit back and hit on the break.
Lampard kept the 3-4-3 formation that had served the former England midfielder well at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, while Southampton started with Che Adams, who had yet to score since joining Saints in pre-season, in attack in place of 17-goal Danny Ings.
– Urgency –
Chelsea seldom showed the urgency needed against a Southampton team who were willing to scrap for every 50-50 ball, but also waste time at any opportunity, with former Chelsea Champions League winner Ryan Bertrand booked after 29 minutes for delaying play.
The Saints were celebrating, however, only two minutes later after Callum Hudson-Odoi lost the ball just in front of the technical areas and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg sent a diagonal ball forward.
Fikayo Tomori failed to cut out the pass before it could reach Obafemi, who turned, ran on and curled a left-foot shot around Kepa Arrizabalaga from 20 yards before Kurt Zouma could challenge.
Chelsea were now in trouble, with too many players performing below their best against a team with a lead to defend.
The west London club’s fans grew increasingly restless as Chelsea took one touch too many and passed when shots were on.
Lampard took off Zouma at the interval, reverted to a flat back four, and introduced Mason Mount to add extra creativity.
Almost immediately, Mount found a yard of space and set up Tammy Abraham for a shot that went inches wide of the near post.
But Southampton came just as close to doubling their in the 48th minute.
Redmond sped past Antonio Rudiger on the left and his low cross was on its way towards Adams in front of an empty net only for Tomori to slide in and get the slightest touch on the ball to deflect it away from the forward.
The danger of that type of quick break was ever-present for Chelsea, but they had to go forward.
Mount tried to slip Abraham through the centre with N’Golo Kante and Willian free on the right, a move symptomatic of a day when Chelsea always seemed to pick the wrong option.
Southampton, in contrast, could afford to sit back and wait for gaps to appear in the Chelsea rearguard, and they did.
Arrizabalaga had to rescue his defenders when Redmond was played through in the 65th minute b ut he was helpless when Southampton made it 2-0.
In trying to dispossess Stuart Armstrong, Kante succeeded only in playing the ball into the path of Redmond, who lifted the ball over Arrizabalaga and into the net.
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