MATCH REPORT: CHELSEA 3 SOUTHAMPTON 1
The Blues move up into second place in the league table thanks to a strong second-half recovery against a Southampton side who took a very early lead.
A mistake led to Jay Rodriguez scoring first but Jose Mourinho's side held their nerve and took the lead with two headed goals from centre-backs early in the second half. Demba Ba had been introduced at half-time and increased the set-piece threat, but Gary Cahill and John Terry were the scorers who put the home team back in front, with Ba adding his name to the scoresheet in open play late on.
Unfortunately Oscar was lost to injury before the interval, but an industrious Chelsea performance with a changed formation overcame that setback and more goals could have been added before Ba made the win safe.
Michael Essien started his first league game of the season and Juan Mata his first since the defeat at Newcastle a month ago. The Spaniard lined up on the right as the starting team shape returned to 4-2-3-1 after two matches of 4-3-3. Eden Hazard came back in on the left with Fernando Torres the centre-forward.
Southampton made two changes with Dani Osvaldo preferred to Rickie Lambert as their striker. Dejan Lovren was back as Jose Fonte's regular central defence partner with Jos Hooiveld making way.
After the stumble of the draw against West Brom in the last game at the Bridge, and the defeat in Switzerland midweek, a confidence-boosting good start today was highly desirable but the defence and Petr Cech were left helpless by Essien's misjudged volley back towards his keeper with the game barely underway. The ball over the centre-backs dropped into the path of Jay Rodriguez who as long as he kept his composure, couldn't miss.
There had probably been less than a minute of Stamford Bridge football between Eden Hazard's penalty equaliser in the last home game, and this blow at the start of this came which came with 13 seconds played.
Chelsea's immediate response was promising. A long pass from Mata didn't fall kindly to Hazard who was well-placed running into the area, and Ramires won a corner that Cahill headed wide.
On nine minutes, Torres glided through the middle and past two Saints players but couldn't get the better of the last man back.
Mata fired a dangerous-looking ball in towards the near post after a free-kick had been cleared but Terry the target had been offside. Then after a corner Oscar let fly from outside the area but Artur Boruc beat the ball away, the first save by the keeper on 19 minutes although the flag had gone up for an offside anyway.
Oscar, with his next attack, gave Torres the chance to turn towards goal but the striker was crowded out.
On 25 minutes, Chelsea had Southampton stretched with a sustained attack, but Ramires didn't catch his shot fully and the offside flag yet again put the brakes on play as Mata went for the loose ball, as it did two minutes later when Essien headed a cross over. Despite Southampton's tactic of pressing their opponents high up the pitch, Chelsea were spending a good amount of time on the ball around the Saints' penalty area but we needed to find a way not to be caught offside.
Essien was booked on 32 minutes, the ref deciding he was guilty of simulation inside the Chelsea half.
As the half entered its final 10 minutes Oscar, under challenge, fell and hurt his ankle. He continued on for a few minutes but was then replaced by Frank Lampard, but not before the Brazilian had a header saved low down by Boruc, after a fine piece of work by Torres out wide.
The Saints took their lead into the interval but only thanks to a superb save from their keeper. Boruc scrabbled across to keep out a Torres header that had looked destined to find the bottom corner from the moment he headed Mata's cross
We had seen precious little from the visitors as an attacking force since their goal but some good organisation in their defence and that inspired Boruc contribution was frustrating Jose Mourinho's men.
At half-time, Chelsea's oldest surviving player, John Paton, was the on-pitch guest and the 90-year-old took the mic to call for the 'Chelsea Roar' in the second half and received a huge cheer.
The manager was never likely to take that lying down and made a switch for the start of the second period, Demba Ba asked to join Torres up front in a 4-4-2. Ramires returned to central midfield having taken a wide berth when Oscar came off.
A big roar from the crowd greeted Chelsea winning a corner soon after the restart, the fans keen to play their part in a potential second-half rival. The delivery that followed was disappointing; less so Lampard's free-kick eight minutes into the half that from a considerable way out, forced Boruc to tip over. From the corner that resulted Chelsea took the lead.
Mata's corner was played deep to Ivanovic whose header was going wide but was towards Ba. Reacting quickly, the substitute struck a shot against the near post and as it came back inside the six-yard box, Cahill did very well to adjust his body shape and head the ball into the net.
This time Boruc could do nothing about, having been left in the back of his net after reacting to Ba's effort. He also had an injured hand, and after lengthy attempts at repair failed, had to come off.
Thirteen minutes of the half had gone and Boruc's replacement, Paulo Gazzaniga, was left clutching at air five minutes later as Chelsea took the lead. A corner had been cleared initially but when Mata played it back in, Terry's header was perfect, arcing over the keeper and into the far side of the net. The skipper had celebrated going clear as Chelsea's fourth all-time appearance maker with a goal.
From then on, the Blues were well on top, and Ba should have made it 3-1 but shot wide after collecting a pass over the top of the defence having stayed onside.
Southampton had got forward more in the second half than the first and in the closing minutes, Mourinho was clearly not happy with some of his team's work off the ball. Osvaldo went wide with a couple of speculative efforts, having become the last of four second-half bookings for the visitors when he caught Mata with a late tackle.
Thankfully, the three points were made safe with 89 minutes played when Demba Ba, scorer of three goals against the Saints last season, nipped in front of Lovren to slide the ball home, after phenomenal persistence in possession by Ramires was eventually rewarded with an opportunity to cross. Now it was a joyous Mourinho as he celebrated the killing of the game.
Six minutes stoppage time passed by with little further incident. Chelsea had begun the busy nine-game December with a win.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Ramires, Essien (Ba h/t), Mata, Oscar (Lampard 41), Hazard; Torres (Mikel 84).
Unused subs Schwarzer, Cole, Schurrle, Willian.
Scorers Cahill 54, Terry 61, Ba 89.
Booked Essien 32.
Southampton (4-2-3-1): Boruc (Gazzaniga 58); Clyne, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw; Wanyama, Schneiderlin (Lambert 67); Ward-Prowse (S Davis 62), Lallana (c), Rodriguez; Osvaldo.
Unused subs Yoshida, Hooiveld, Chambers, Cork.
Scorer Rodriguez 13 seconds,
Booked Lallana 52, Schneiderlin 64, Rodriguez 71, Osvaldo 85.
Referee Michael Oliver