Southampton began the game by sitting back and waiting for Chelsea’s forward passes, wherein they could either intercept the initial forward pass, or surround the area of the receiving player on the ball and block Chelsea’s attempts to combine and create.
Without being able to combine successfully, Chelsea found themselves with problems. When they were able to keep the ball after forward passes, it was usually to take the ball back out of pressure and allow Southampton to remain organised. Attempts to find passes behind Southampton’s backline were unsuccessful, and Chelsea’s wing-backs could do little to beat Southampton’s wing-backs in order to attempt crosses into the box. Hazard moving wide could allow Chelsea to hold the ball on the wing and move higher up, but Southampton would have numbers back and inside the box to compete in the air during their attempts at crosses. Finally, Azpilicueta’s early crosses into the box for Morata aren’t having the same success as they were earlier in the season.
Without being able to create chances from their possession, Chelsea would often find themselves defending dangerous counter attacks from Southampton. Quick and direct balls up to the ever-aggressive Long running behind and to the left caused plenty of problems for Chelsea’s back three, who needed support from the midfielders and the wing-backs, especially on second balls. Attacks up the left were where Southampton caused the most problems, with Bertrand combining and overlapping to get behind. Both Bertrand and Tadic were able to consistently deliver the ball into the box in the opening stages, and this threat eventually lead to Southampton taking the lead.
The second half started with more aggression and intensity, with Southampton pressing higher up and into Chelsea’s half. This lead to fouls by Southampton to prevent Chelsea from using the space that opened between lines, as well as fouls by Chelsea to stop Southampton’s subsequent counters.
With Southampton’s more aggressive approach to look for the second goal also meant that Chelsea no longer had the same problems with combinations as they did in the first half, since they could rely on Willian and Hazard to dribble forward into space and past opponents. Chelsea were able take the ball up to Southampton’s penalty area with more consistency, but in turn, this would increase their risk of conceding at the back with more space for Long to use during counters—where he created a couple of chances for himself.
While the game opened, Southampton’s play up the wings continued to cause problems, both during long balls from the back and on Bertrand’s speedy overlaps. Chelsea gave away numerous corners and fouls, from which Southampton were a constant threat thanks to Ward-Prowse’s exceptional deliveries. It was through one of those that Southampton eventually found their second goal, scored by debutant Bednarek.
Upon going 2-0 down, Chelsea changed immediately and switched to a 442 with Giroud and Pedro replacing Morata and Zappacosta. The change helped Chelsea’s attacks in a number of ways, but also left them even more open at the back to quick and long passes over the top for Long.
Chelsea vs Southampton Running xG— Scott Willis (@oh_that_crab) April 14, 2018
I might be sad to see Southampton leave the Premier League but not Mark Hughes. pic.twitter.com/uLgk3A1Iaj
With both Pedro and Willian now on the wings, Chelsea had more quality to beat Southampton’s defenders to get crosses into the box, while support from the fullbacks and Hazard moving wide to overload improved their combinations to create from short passes. Kante and Fabregas could join the box more regularly to increase the numbers, or to replace Hazard moving wide. This provided more options to take defenders away, keep the ball alive in and around the box after crosses, and give passing options inside rather than backwards, which is what Chelsea struggled with in the first half.
Giroud’s power in the air was much more useful during these moments as Chelsea were playing more crosses into the box, such as the one from deep after a quickly taken free kick, with Alonso he setting up Giroud to score Chelsea’s first goal of the game.
Chelsea’s equaliser also came through a combination of the positive effects the changes made, where Willian was able to dribble with the ball past Cedric down the line on the left and cross into the box. Kante running towards the near post drew Hoedt away from the far post, where the ball found Hazard with space to receive, control, and finish.
Pedro’s direct running also made important, albeit less visible, impact. By running at and behind defenders, Pedro was able to stretch them and open space for the likes of Alonso to carry the ball forward. It was a free-kick that Alonso won in just such a circumstance that lead to Chelsea scoring the winner. Chelsea’s central defenders kept the ball alive inside the box from Hazard’s cross, before Giroud’s quick-shot half-volley put Chelsea into the lead.
Chelsea then switched back to playing 541 defensively to see the game out, with Moses replacing Hazard, but their defence did give away some opportunities for Southampton to equalise when dropping back and trying to hold their lead. Southampton switched to playing even more offensively in added-on time with Gabbiadini replacing Bednarek, and switching to a 424 with the ball, but were soon out of time after Chelsea held on to the ball during the final minutes.
Southampton were threatening throughout the match with their play on the left wing, their counter attacks, and set pieces. Their defence was also tight and prevented Chelsea from combining or creating many chances in the first half, before taking a 2-0 lead in the second half. It was at that point that Chelsea’s changes made an impact. By switching their formation and the characteristics of the players on the pitch, Chelsea found solutions to the problems they had been facing when trying to create chances in the final third, and managed to come back from two goals down to win the match.