What is that saying, the night is always darkest before the dawn?
Well, for Chelsea, things got very dark around the hour-mark against Southampton today, despite what the clocks at St Mary’s and bright midday South Coast sunshine were saying. Premier League debutant Jan Bednarek, only drafted in by Mark Hughes because of injuries and suspensions to his other defenders, found himself completely unmarked at the far post to side-foot home a perfect James Ward-Prowse free kick. Southampton, on the brink of relegation, were suddenly up 2-0 against the reigning champions (technically still true!).
Conte, looking more and more homeless on the sideline, folded his arms as he’s done (had to do?) far too often this season. He lives alongside his players, who were showing plenty of frustration but little quality up to that point.
The Chelsea head coach is often accused of waiting too late to make changes (and rightly so), but today he wasted no time in making a double-change, taking off the ineffective Álvaro Morata for Olivier Giroud and the even worse Davide Zappacosta to add an extra man into attack with Pedro — switching to a back-four with Alonso, Cahill, Christensen, Azpilicueta.
The shift in attitude and quality wasn’t immediate, but Alonso eventually did work a great cross onto Giroud’s head, who found the perfect position between two defenders to score his first Premier League goal for the club. And then the floodgates opened and within ten minutes, Chelsea were ahead 3-2.
From 2-0 down to 3-2. If that sounds rare and impressive that’s because it is. In fact, it’s the first time since 2002 that Chelsea have accomplished this feat in the Premier League.
It was opening day, in fact, of the 2002-03 season when Chelsea traveled across town to The Valley to take on Charlton Athletic, who are nowadays in the third division. But that season they’d finish mid-table (12th) and would begin the season by jumping out to a 2-0 lead against Chelsea. Paul Konchesky scored for the Addicks inside of ten minutes, then was sent off inside of thirty. But Richard Rufus doubled the hosts’ lead, who were a bit of a bogey team for Chelsea at that time.
But a Zola goal just before half-time and two late goals from Carlton Cole and Frank Lampard completed Chelsea’s comeback. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, we can relive these highlights.
Chelsea finished that season in 4th place. That’s unlikely to happen this season, but at least today’s comeback will make us feel happy for a minute.