Back to back victories have seen Chelsea make the perfect start to a long stretch of winnable games that will surely dictate their prospects for the season. They now have a great opportunity to record three successive wins for the first time under Frank Lampard as they travel to St Mary’s to take on a goal-shy Southampton side in the midst of an identity crisis under Ralf Hassenhutl.
Chelsea’s late winner inspired images of a team who have now managed to successfully merge style with substance. A game which has so often got away from the Blues this season ended with jubilant celebrations, not only of a vital three points in the Champions League, but also the ability of Lampard’s young side to regain their composure under hostile conditions and dominate proceedings before converting this into a well-worked and ruthless winning goal.
Willian, a man who has rightly fallen victim to criticism over the past 12 months, will be eager to reinforce the belief that he still has what it takes to oust Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi from the starting XI. His two goals are the first the Brazilian has netted in 27 games for the Blues, and with Hudson-Odoi returning to first-team action with a blistering set of cameo appearances, it is welcome timing that the 30-year-old should return to the sort of form that saw him almost single-handedly carry Chelsea to victories in 2015/16.
Southampton are a team stuffed full of quality but they seem to lack any direction and cohesion. Danny Ings, once a nippy forward with a poacher’s instinct unmatched in the lower etchings of the Premier League, has become a shadow of his former self following injury and a lack of opportunity, namely at former club Liverpool. The fact that his strike partner Che Adams hasn’t faired any better after his move from Birmingham City, is a testament to Southampton’s struggles to create chances from open play. This issue also has its roots in a midfield that is perhaps too defensively impressive for its own good. Former Blue Oriel Romeu has found peace at the base of the Saint’s midfield but offers little in the way of ball progression, whilst Pierre Emile-Hjoberg and James Ward-Prowse are great on the ball but have been tasked with holding possession and distributing quickly out wide, instead of utilising the pace of Ings and Adams in behind. With Southampton’s wingers is where the real problem lies, however, with an unpredictable mismatch of unnecessary flair and poor end product. Nathan Redmond is the residing hope on which Southampton’s success relies, but a player who is only capable of stringing together three-game purple patches which have some fans calling for an England cap – god forbid, is no such mediocre talent from which to build an attack and as a result, defensive compactness is paramount to Southampton picking up points this season.
Defending from set-pieces is remarkably still a problem yet to be resolved in the Chelsea camp, and the issue of who takes lead in these situations needs to be quickly addressed with the Blues looking bereft of any competency as soon as opposition players flood the area. Zonal marking has been consistently earmarked as a skill rarely mastered by any team, particularly one with so many fresh faces. Fikayo Tomori’s stock has risen exponentially over recent weeks but he doesn’t yet possess the leadership qualities needed to organise from set-pieces, whilst both Kepa Arrizabalaga and Cesar Azpilicueta have shown themselves incapable of taking charge in said situation. The solution can not solely rely on the return of Antonio Rudiger, a player riddled with injuries this season, someone needs to grow into their role as a leader or else abandon the tactic altogether.
Chelsea do however have players returning to fitness and form at a startling rate and there is reason to believe that the Blues can really kick on over the winter period, and with Lampard – recently nominated for his first Premier League manager of the month, learning more and more how to combine expansive play with ample amounts of game management in order to ground out results when the opportunity presents itself, there is a stream of optimism heading into Sunday’s game.