Chelsea began 2019 with a disappointing home draw against Southampton on Wednesday night.
It was a frustrating night for the Blues as we came up against a resolute Saints side who were determined not to give anything away.
Visiting goalkeeper Angus Gunn put in a man of the match display on his Premier League debut, making key saves from Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata, while the Spaniard had a second-half goal ruled out for offside.
Another headache for Maurizio Sarri will be the injury to Willian sustained in the first half, adding to our current injury problems with wide players.
Sarri made just one change from that which started at Selhurst Park on Sunday. Alvaro Morata replaced the injured Olivier Giroud in attack, after the Frenchman limped out of the win over Crystal Palace. Cesc Fabregas and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were deemed fit to return to the squad and both were on the bench.
Saints’ new boss Ralph Hasenhuttl made eight changes following their defeat to Manchester City, with England Under-21 goalkeeper Gunn coming in for his league debut in place of Alex McCarthy. Former Blue Oriol Romeu captained the visitors but Ryan Bertrand missed out with
The Blues began well and Gunn was quickly called into action to prevent an Eden Hazard through-ball reaching Willian, and then saved from Morata’s header after Cesar Azpilicueta had picked out his fellow Spaniard with a raking long pass into the area.
At the other end, Kepa Arrizabalaga had to race from his area to head clear before watching a Danny Ings header fly over the bar. That was a rare attack for Southampton though, who
Much of the first half followed the pattern from Sunday at Palace. Chelsea were dominating possession but unable to create clear-cut chances against a well-organised opponent. Willian cut inside before smashing a shot against Maya Yoshida and then nearly played in Hazard as the Blues countered quickly.
Our best chance of the first period came just after the half-hour mark when another ball from deep, this time from Toni Rudiger, found Hazard who hit hard and high, Gunn saving it somewhat fortuitously with his face when he was unable to get his hands up quickly enough.
Sarri revealed on Sunday injury concerns with a number of his squad, pointing to a shortage of wide players with Pedro and Callum Hudson-Odoi already out. He will have been cursing his luck to see Willian limp off towards the end of the first half, replaced by Loftus-Cheek, who had played right wing at times for England during the World Cup.
Chelsea pressure continued to mount in the closing stages with Kepa regularly the only man in our half. Morata and Marcos Alonso both had shots deflected behind before the break but the visitors were able to see out the half relatively untroubled.
Just after the restart, they came as close as they would to finding the net as Kepa turned a Stuart Armstrong curler past the post. In truth, it was probably heading wide anyway.
Chelsea continued to huff and puff. Hazard danced past two but couldn’t find the power to beat Gunn at his near post, and then a rare poor touch from the Belgian allowed the goalkeeper to take the ball off his toe after David Luiz had played another one of those laser-guided passes into the area from deep.
Jorginho’s drive was held by the keeper and Kepa punched away a dangerous Saints corner as we approached the final 20 minutes.
Sarri called for Fabregas in an attempt to carve open the visitors’ defence, the Spaniard tucking in on the right of the midfield three on his 350th Premier League outing.
He took only two minutes to be involved in a key moment, exchanging passes with Hazard before playing in Morata who slotted into the net. The offside flag was raised but replays were inconclusive. It was the third goal scored by a Chelsea forward in two games ruled out by an assistant’s flag. All required very close examination.
As we entered the closing stages it became evident Southampton were beginning to tire. Fabregas turned defence into attack and released Loftus-Cheek, who suddenly had space to run into. The England man laid off to his left, finding Morata, but this time the striker could not beat the keeper, who was enjoying a night to remember.
We added to the pressure as time ticked away, the visitors engaging in more than a fair amount of time-wasting as they tried to preserve what could be a big point in their battle for survival. N’Golo Kante and Loftus-Cheek both came close to finding a way through the red and white wall of shirts on the edge of the box but were denied by last-ditch tackles.
Marcos Alonso went down in the area under a challenge from Shane Long, and then brought Gunn’s final save of the game with a low long-range effort that had the goalkeeper scrambling to his right.
So the year begins with two points dropped rather than one gained, but we go three clear of Arsenal in fourth place. It is now 10 days until our next Premier League fixture when Newcastle visit the Bridge, but first, we host Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger, David Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Barkley (Fabregas 68); Willian (Loftus-Cheek 37), Morata, Hazard.
Unused subs: Caballero, Christensen, Ampadu, Zappacosta, Emerson.
Booked Rudiger 74
Southampton (3-4-3): Gunn; Bednarek, Yoshida, Vestergaard; Valery, Ward-Prowse, Romeu (c), Cedric; Redmond (Stephens 90+5), Ings (Long h-t), Armstrong (Austin 89).
Unused subs: McCarthy, Elyounoussi, Slattery, Ramsay.
Booked Bednarek 30, Romeu 79
Referee Jon Moss