At times, Southampton looked like they could have been Cardiff or Newcastle or PAOK or... well, anyone Chelsea have played this season other than Arsenal and Liverpool. Manager Mark Hughes may have been shouting at them to step up, but his entire team felt safer sitting deep and packing the defense in the face of another dominant game in possession by the Blues.
As in other matches, Southampton came to life to start the second half. As in other matches, a Chelsea goal put paid to it with a goal — Ross Barkley kneeing-in the second from an athletic cross by Olivier Giroud cross off of Willian’s free kick. The former Everton man started in place of Mateo Kovačić and had a strong match, also slotting a laser-beam through ball for Eden Hazard to opening the scoring in the 30th minute.
1 – Ross Barkley is the first Englishman to both score and assist in a Premier League game for Chelsea since Frank Lampard in December 2013 vs Sunderland. Rise. pic.twitter.com/AGOrZgYAAb— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 7, 2018
It may have been the first time an Englishman has scored and assisted for Chelsea in the same match since Frank Lampard in 2013 against Sunderland, but in the post-match press conference, Maurizio Sarri didn’t even think it was Barkley’s best performance for Chelsea.
“I think the best performance of Ross was in the Carabao Cup in Liverpool. Today he has played very well, but I am really happy with him. From the beginning he has improved day by day, week by week and match by match. So I am very happy with him and for him, for the goal, for the national team. I think he had a very serious injury in the previous season, but I think he is improving.”
Nor was he entirely happy with Chelsea’s overall game. We’re now unbeaten in eight matches and the three-goal outburst was a welcome return after a relative goal drought since putting four past Cardiff in mid-September. But as he has in the past, Sarri sees room for improvement at both ends of the pitch.
“I think sometimes, not always. I think today we can do better, especially in the centre part of the second half. We have given them two or three opportunities. We need to be in control of the match, we can do better in the defensive phase and sometimes also in the offensive phase. Today we did wrong in two or three counter attacks, four against three, three against two. I think we have the possibility to do better.”
Twice Southampton gave themselves glorious chances to score, including Danny Ings basically missing an open goal in the first half.
But for the most part they labored without the ball, Chelsea enjoying 65% possession and firing off 21 shots, six on target. Still, Sarri was only satisfied with the quickness of the ball movement on the third goal. 68th-minute substitute, Álvaro Morata had a nice finish at the end of a 31-pass move.
31 - There were 31 passes made in the build-up to Alvaro Morata's goal for Chelsea against Southampton; the most of any goal in the Premier League this season. Slick. pic.twitter.com/1qWPuNkFJ3— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 7, 2018
Sarri said it was his favorite of the three goals and the kind of play and the kind of finish from Morata he’s trying to see more often from the team. Morata had missed another 1-v-1 earlier in the half, overthinking the situation and trying to surprise the goalkeeper with a near post finish.
“Something like this, something like this. We moved the ball very quick. I think one touch, sometimes two. We arrived at the goal so easy. I think it’s my football.”
“I am really very happy with him, for him. It is always very important for the striker to score, to have scored in the Europa League and to have scored today. But it was very important the performance. Alvaro has played very well in the Europa League and today in the last 30 minutes. I think we can restart easily now.”
The three points briefly put Chelsea at the top of the table, dropping to second after Liverpool and Manchester City battled to a 0-0 draw at Anfield. Sarri, as he’s said consistently, put the combatants from Sunday’s big match ahead of his team though.
“It’s the same that I thought exactly one week ago and what I said. I think Manchester City and Liverpool are a step forward from us. We need to recover the gap. The gap last season was 30 points between City and Chelsea, now we are trying to cover the gap and we are working on that. I think it will be very difficult to cover so large a gap in one season.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football.London
A three-way tie at the top, with just goal difference separating the teams is not quite the most obvious representation of this supposed large gap, but Sarri has been careful to keep expectations in check, for everyone’s benefit.
So now it’s another tiresome international break.
But after that comes a tasty treat and a flood of headlines, because Manchester United are coming to town and Jose Mourinho has, once again, made himself the center of attention. It will be a good chance for Chelsea to hustle him further down that familiar, inevitable path — a sacking in his third season. Again.