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Flaccid Chelsea flop at St. Mary's

Mystifying team selection from the honorable Rafa Benitez against Southampton resulted in what has become largely expected of this side under his stewardship - an embarrassing defeat.

A sentiment likely shared by the entire Premier League.
A sentiment likely shared by the entire Premier League.
Mike Hewitt

Was this to be the start of this season's defining period for Chelsea? Some were saying so, what with an FA Cup replay with Manchester United and a Europa League tie with Rubin Kazan on the horizon. If that is indeed the case - and I'm not sold that this season, forgettable in so many ways, will include a defining period - this was about as perfect of a start as you could expect.

I say that in jest, of course, because the definition of perfect under Rafael Benitez has been the exact opposite. This was Rafa Chelsea being Rafa Chelsea. This guy, permanent owner of the award for worst decision of the Roman era, continues to sprinkle "play as shitty as possible" dust all over our beloved club. Today's loss was deserved, much like most of the others suffered under Benitez, and it started with the selection of a starting XI that was, to be nice, not our strongest.

But I thought finishing among the top four in the Premier League was the priority, right? Don't tell that to Rafa. Euro Vase or bust, the Spaniard says. Whatever. Today's result saw Chelsea drift to fourth in the league, just two points ahead of Arsenal, who defeated Reading 4-1. Tottenham, meanwhile, assumed third (having played a game more than both Chelsea and Arsenal) thanks to a 2-1 win over Swansea City. So, there goes that somewhat comfortable cushion we had established. Super.

Super wouldn't be the term most used by supporters to describe the team Rafa trotted out to start the match. Marko Marin and Ryan Bertrand left us all fearful of what may happen as Southampton attacked down the right, and we were proven correct as a number of Saints players took turns at enjoying time and space on that side of the field.

It wasn't just Marin and Bertrand who struggled, though. Southampton had time and space pretty much everywhere during the opening 45 minutes. There were periods during the first half where it just looked so easy for the hosts. Me, I was embarrassed by the ease in which Southampton passed, moved and passed some more. Though chances were spurned early on - both Jason Puncheon and Jay Rodriguez created openings - it didn't take long for Saints to grab a deserved lead. On 23 minutes, Rodriguez made up for his earlier miss by slotting across Petr Cech after good work from Rickie Lambert and Steven Davis. It was a slick move - a move you'd expect Chelsea to produce, to be honest.

There were no slick moves from Chelsea on this day - just a mess of play, really. It didn't feel like Chelsea were motivated, and it showed. Southampton, meanwhile, had bundles of energy, highlighted by the play of both fullbacks - Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw. The former Chelsea player Jack Cork, too, had an impressive outing, displaying the graft that Frank Lampard lacked. Lampard looked as if he was running in quicksand during the first half. John Obi Mikel was indistinguishable.

Nevertheless, Chelsea did manage to level the match, albeit briefly, when John Terry produced a vintage header from a corner in the 33rd. Such was the frustration that it felt like Chelsea's first chance on goal. Regardless, parity lasted just two minutes, with Lambert - the top scoring English player in the league this season, now with 14 goals - producing a beautiful curling free kick that the diving Cech had no chance of reaching.

The second half was largely the same as the first, though Chelsea could have been awarded a penalty after 67 minutes when Victor Moses and Maya Yoshida tangled. To be fair, though, it's not like our play warranted a call. Benitez refused to make changes to a clearly unbalanced side until the 61st minute, when he introduced Eden Hazard for Marin, but by then it felt like it was far too late. It was. Throwing on Yossi Benayoun for Oscar with about 10 minutes remaining was insulting to the fanbase. Could this man be any more inept?

At that point, you knew how the match would end. What a way to start this so-called defining period. I, like Stephen, would just as soon lose in both cup competitions to force Benitez to prioritize the league. Today was inexcusable, and the end of this season cannot come soon enough.

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