After back-to-back home defeats in the space of just three days, Southampton got back on track with a well-deserved point at Stamford Bridge and surely the best display defensively of the season.
Organised, determined, concentrated: three adjectives that paint a picture of the performance last night as the visitors frustrated Chelsea from minute one to minute ninety. Hasenhuttl must be credited with how he organised his side as Sarri’s side rarely had a sniff of goal with Maya Yoshida blocking and intercepting more times than any other Southampton player in a single game all season; the defender will be missed for the next month as he departs for the Asian Cup with his native Japan.
Speaking of individual performers, debutant Angus Gunn also had a night to remember as he made more saves in a single game than McCarthy had done in any of his previous 20 league games this season. The 22-year old’s inclusion into the starting line-up as one of eight changes from the 3-1 defeat to Manchester City on Sunday was a huge surprise given the timing. McCarthy has come under a bit of criticism of late, mainly for his poor distribution and sometimes positioning but no one would’ve expected him to be dropped for a big game like this; it has a similar nature to the decision to drop Fraser Forster last season before the game at Old Trafford, which, ironically, also ended as a 0-0 stalemate.
As much as Southampton contributed at the back, there was little created going forward as a mix of Chelsea’s solidity, a lack of ideas and a lack of quality in the final third all combined to make sure the visitors wouldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.
Ings’ header past the post in the first half was as close as Saints came to breaking the deadlock in the first period whereas Hazard’s fierce effort was parried well by Gunn in a pretty uneventful first half.
But, as expected, Chelsea went up a gear after the interval but the visitors still managed to cope with the ever-increasing pressure and won a well-deserved point.
What was pleasing for me post-game was the clean sheet. Predicting a win against Chelsea is ludicrous, and to think that we were able to keep out the likes of Hazard, Willian and Barkley is a major credit to the Southampton defence, who earned their first clean sheet in over two months.
Of course, there were still mistakes. Losing the ball in dangerous areas. But that’s to be expected against the top six and, in fairness, what was impressive was our hunger to get back and cope with the danger.
Unfortunately, given the results around us, Southampton do find themselves back in the bottom three after those defeats to West Ham and Manchester City. However, two points off of safety with 17 league games to go is a situation we can easily get out of and, with the vast majority of performances under Hasenhuttl and a good run of fixtures coming up in the next two months, we should find ourselves in a much better situation in the coming weeks!