The pre-Christmas cheer of a Chelsea win at Tottenham was replaced by a Boxing Day bump as the Blues were beaten at home by Southampton.
Ralph Hassenhuttl’s battling side fought to secure a first clean sheet in 14 attempts, while a goal in each half gave them a precious three points in their ongoing fight for Premier League survival.
Michael Obafemi fired the Saints in front after half an hour with a precise finish bent into the top corner before Nathan Redmond doubled their lead with 17 minutes to play.
Frank Lampard’s team were unable to score at home for the second game running, with our form in west London juxtaposing an impressive record on the road. The result leaves us fourth but sees the gap to Tottenham cut back down to three points.
There were three changes from the win at Tottenham as the Blues stuck with the 3-4-3 shape that played its part in our 2-0 victory in north London. Jorginho replaced the suspended Mateo Kovacic in midfield, while Emerson Palmieri came in for Marcos Alonso and Callum Hudson-Odoi took the place of Mason Mount.
Southampton included former Blue Ryan Bertrand in their line-up as well as opting for a new-look attack with Che Adams and teenager Obafemi up front.
Yet this would need to be 3-4-3 played in a very different way to the system and style adopted in N17 four days previously, with the Saints set up similarly to many recent visitors to Stamford Bridge, utilising a deep defence and a hard-working, hassling midfield.
Despite shading the possession statistics in the early period of the contest, there was no way through or around the visitors’ back-line and it took 20 minutes before the first shot on goal. After working the ball patiently down the left, the sight at goal fell to Hudson-Odoi on his left foot but the effort deflected away from danger.
The familiar feeling of frustration soon engulfed the Bridge again and that intensified when the Blues fell behind for the third time in our last four home league games. It was a rare moment of quality in the half that broke the deadlock when Obafemi collected possession 35 yards from goal and spun dangerously towards the heart of our defence.
Having neglected the chance to pass to his strike partner Adams, the 19-year-old advanced into the box and curled a brilliant effort into the top corner that left Kepa rooted to the spot. Behind again at home, Lampard would need a response from his players.
There was improvement and an upturn in intensity. Hudson-Odoi found a little space in the box but opted to pass rather than shoot which led to the attack breaking down, while the accuracy of our deliveries from out wide was consistently poor.
The one time a ball into the box caused some problems, when Willian’s inswinging corner was flicked towards the far post by captain Cesar Azpilicueta, Southampton were rescued by an impressively agile save from their goalkeeper, Alex McCarthy.
Lampard was not prepared to wait any longer to make a change, introducing Mount for Kurt Zouma at the break and changing shape to 4-3-3. There was almost an instant impact from the young England midfielder, who jinked into the box from the right and teed up a chance for Tammy Abraham, though the striker lashed his effort into the side-netting.
Down the other end, with the game opening up slightly more now, only a terrific last-ditch touch from Fikayo Tomori denied a tap-in for Adams in the middle following great work from the left by Redmond.
After a tepid first period, there was certainly more incident after the restart, unsurprisingly given our deficit in the match. Hudson-Odoi went very close with a curling strike that dipped onto the roof of the net following a short corner routine, before Willian and Azpilicueta combined down the opposite flank but the Spaniard could not pick out a team-mate in the middle.
As our desperation grew, so did the opportunity for a counter-punch from the visitors and Redmond almost provided it with 65 minutes on the clock as he bore down on Kepa’s goal. However, our Spanish stopper did well to stand tall and then make a decent save down low to his right to keep it at 0-1.
That warning went unheeded and Southampton did soon double their advantage at the end of the ground at which their contingent of travelling fans were housed. It was an impressive passing move that fashioned the chance, albeit with a slice of fortune as N’Golo Kante provided the final touch before Redmond lofted the ball over the onrushing Kepa and into the back of the net.
A comeback did not look likely from that moment on, even when substitute Christian Pulisic’s low effort trickled towards the bottom corner before eventually being pushed behind by McCarthy.
Azpilicueta also went close when planting a header towards goal, while Mount saw a stinging free-kick pushed over, but there was to be no cause for Christmas cheer for those in blue at the Bridge.
Next up, a trip to the Emirates to take on Arsenal on Sunday afternoon.
Chelsea (3-4-3) Kepa; Rudiger, Tomori, Zouma (Mount h/t); Azpilicueta (c), Kante, Jorginho, Emerson; Willian (Pedro 84), Abraham, Hudson-Odoi (Pulisic 66)
Unused subs Caballero, Christensen, Barkley, Batshuayi
Booked Jorginho 58; Tomori 62
Southampton (4-4-2) McCarthy; Soares, Stephens, Bednarek, Bertrand; Armstrong (Romeu 86), Ward-Prowse, Hojbjerg (c), Redmond; Obafemi (Ings 69), Adams (Boufal 80)
Unused subs Gunn, Yoshida, Vestergaard, Danso
Scorers Obafemi 31; Redmond 73
Booked Bertrand 30; Boufal 90+4
Referee Jonathan Moss