Eden Hazard’s eighth goal of the season, Ross Barkley’s first in a Chelsea shirt and Alvaro Morata's second strike in four days secured a comfortable victory at St Mary’s this afternoon.
The Blues were mostly dominant on the South Coast, but it might have been a different story had Danny Ings converted a golden opportunity when the game was goalless.
The league’s topscorer Hazard made the Saints pay on the half-hour after fine work from Barkley, and it was the recently called-up England man who doubled our advantage shortly before the hour to open his Chelsea account.
A stunning fingertip save from Kepa Arrizabalaga late on preserved the clean sheet, our fourth of the league campaign, before sub Morata dinked home from Hazard's pass. It rounded off a very successful day indeed ahead of the international break.
Maurizio Sarri made a solitary change to the side that started against Liverpool last weekend, bringing in Barkley for Mateo Kovacic in midfield. Olivier Giroud made his 200th Premier League appearance up front, while Toni Rudiger was handed a 50th start in Chelsea blue.
Maya Yoshida, Jan Bednarek and Manolo Gabbiadini were all fresh faces in Southampton’s starting XI compared to their previous league outing at Wolves. They lined up with wing-backs.
Under blue skies and wearing our new third strip for the first time, Sarri’s side started steadily on the South Coast, enjoying almost all of the ball in the opening quarter-hour as is now custom.
The three shots on goal in that time all stemmed from the same move on eight minutes. Hazard had two close-range strikes blocked in quick succession, and then Willian, who had initially stolen possession and initiated the break, watched his effort loop off another flying Saint and hit the top of the crossbar.
For all our possession, corners and time on the ball in the final third, it was Southampton who truly threatened next, midway through the half. Nathan Redmond found Danny Ings running into the left-hand channel and his intelligent cross wasn’t far away from finding Mario Lemina. Gabbiadini then did hit the target from outside the box, but Kepa got down to hold.
The momentum swung Southampton’s way. Next, on 26 minutes, Redmond released Ryan Bertrand flying down the left and his cross was perfect for Ings, who simply had to score from a few yards out. Instead, he volleyed over.
It took four minutes for he and the Saints to be punished for that miss. Wesley Hoedt initially did well to dispossess Hazard, but Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was then caught on his toes by Barkley, who quickly returned the ball to Hazard, now unmarked. Twelve yards out and dead centre, there was only going to be one outcome. The Belgian ran straight to Barkley to acknowledge a fine assist.
Moments before the opener Giroud had had a decent shout for a penalty ignored, and a tug of N’Golo Kante’s shirt by Bertrand was also waved away by the ref as half-time approach. When the French midfielder did get a shot away, it was blocked, a fate that befell nine of our 12 first-half attempts.
Oriol Romeu replaced Bednarek at the interval as our hosts switched to a 4-4-2 formation.
That didn’t stop Bertrand getting forward and our Champions League winner will feel he should have done better than volley over when found unmarked from a deep cross. Ings then fired straight at Kepa. There was no question the Saints remained a threat.
Willian wasted a chance to feed Hazard when Yoshida miscontrolled, so the cushion of a second goal would have to wait - but not for long.
Hazard was felled flying past Ings and Willian lofted the resulting free-kick to Giroud, who had peeled round the back. He scissor-kicked across the goal and there was Barkley in the right place to finish from close range. The no.8 celebrated his maiden Chelsea strike in front of the equally joyous travelling support who have certainly enjoyed their trips to this stadium of late.
Southampton’s ill-discipline and our superiority in possession was evidenced by them receiving four yellow cards in 12 minutes, Hazard in particular on the receiving end of some rough treatment.
After Rudiger blocked bravely to divert Hojbjerg’s shot wide, Morata replaced Giroud with a quarter remaining. Pedro was introduced for Willian shortly afterwards for his first league outing since Cardiff.
Barkley exited to a great ovation on 81 minutes, shortly after both sides might have scored. Redmond’s long-range blockbuster was sensationally tipped on to the bar and over by Kepa, and then Alex McCarthy denied Morata who had been fed by Hazard.
Back down the other end, Kepa sprung to his left to tip over Ings’ curler. Having been largely untroubled until that point, our keeper had twice shown his worth late on.
There was just enough time for another Chelsea goal, and what a fine one it was too. There were consecutive passes aplenty before Hazard burst into space and slipped Morata in behind. The Spaniard coolly beat McCarthy in the third minute of stoppage time.
The result moves us to the top of the table before Liverpool and Manchester City meet.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), David Luiz, Rudiger, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Barkley (Kovacic 81); Willian (Pedro 75), Giroud (Morata 68), Hazard.
Unused subs Caballero, Cahill, Zappacosta, Fabregas, Kovacic.
Scorers Hazard 30, Barkley 57, Morata 90+3
Southampton (5-3-2): McCarthy; Soares, Bednarek (Romeu h/t), Yoshida, Hoedt, Bertrand (c); Lemina, Hojbjerg, Redmond; Gabbiadini (Long 78), Ings.
Unused subs Gunn, Vestergaard, Targett, Davis, Austin.
Booked Bertrand 45+2, Lemina 54, Cedric 59, Romeu 61, Hojbjerg 66, Ings 90.
Referee Craig Pawson