Bottom club Southampton shock Chelsea as Graham Potter’s poor run goes on
As frustration and bewilderment whips around Stamford Bridge, Graham Potter is truly testing the patience of Chelsea’s owners after another abject display in this 1-0 home defeat to Southampton.
A work in progress and a cluttered mess are entirely different things, as Ruben Selles, caretaker boss and fresh from six days working with a Saints side inherited from the bottom of the table, proved in the latest indictment of Potter’s reign so far.
Saints arrived with fresh vigour, organisation and belief in their plan, having detonated the shambolic Nathan Jones experiment, with an alarming contrast between the sides from the outset beyond just James Ward-Prowse’s sublime deadball touch on the stroke of half time, which ultimately separated these sides.
Spoilt for years with their envious collection of silverware, outsiders have told Chelsea to stomach a year in transition. But despite two wins in 14 games and just four goals scored in their last nine entering this weekend, there was a tantalising hope of a late charge for a top four finish, at least mathematically with Newcastle just 10 points clear.
But after a glimmer of an accomplished performance in the Champions League at Dortmund midweek was scuppered by Karim Adeyemi’s electrifying solo effort, yet more gloom coated another dismal effort here.
Juggling a galaxy of stars has proven to be more of a curse than a privilege for Potter so far, with balance so often elusive. And their collective glare continues to obscure any consistent signs of the intricate passing style that established Potter at this level at Brighton.
There were six changes from the defeat to Dortmund, as Benoit Badiashile, Noni Madueke and David Fofana, all ineligible midweek, started.
So too did Mason Mount, given a chance to prove his worth as contract negotiations continue to rumble on and grow as another distraction.
Yet Saints gave the hosts a fright during a frantic opening few minutes. First through Kamaldeen Sulemana, who scrambled in behind the Blues’ backline and forced Kepa Arrizabalaga into a crucial stop from a tight angle, with Kalidou Koulibaly clearing off the line from Stuart Armstrong’s follow-up.
And the Senegalese, scrapping for his place in the starting line-up after Badiashile’s sharp rise, was then fortunate to escape with just a yellow card, having scraped his studs down the lively Paul Onuachu’s leg. The Nigerian then preyed on the undersized Ben Chilwell, with his header curling inches wide as Kepa looked on in hope.
After a messy, disorganised opening for Potter’s men, it was two of the lesser heralded signings from the club’s £600 million spree since last summer who started to unsettle Saints.
Madueke’s mazy dribble and crisp shot kept Gavin Bazunu busy and Fofana’s workrate and surge from deep offered encouragement for Potter on the touchline.
A golden rule when playing against Saints is to avoid conceding free-kicks in what may yet become known as the Ward-Prowse zone, yet a careless challenge from Cesar Azpilicueta on Armstrong offered a perfect opportunity to cap a spirited first-half display. Ward-Prowse gleefully accepted, viciously whipping the ball up and over the wall and into the bottom left corner. Heaving Saints on his back during this relegation scrap, Ward-Prowse sprinted the length of the pitch to his adoring away supporters, with jeers circling around Stamford Bridge moments later at the interval.
Backed into a corner, Potter came out firing before the restart, hauling off Koulibaly and Fofana and introducing Wesley Fofana and Raheem Sterling, who immediately raised the volume.
A magnetic force towards the ball inside the box, Sterling quickly snatched at one chance that deflected beyond a beaten Bazunu but wide of the post.
Mount would then make way for Kai Havertz after an inconspicuous outing, which included less completed passes (nine) than Kepa (14) in the first half.
Sparked into life, Sterling was at the heart of everything positive from Chelsea. It took Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ block to deny an equaliser after Havertz’s square ball.
And the same combination saw Sterling haul himself at the ball only for Romain Perraud to clear off the line once again.
Any momentum was soon lost after a sickening collision between Azpilicueta and Sekou Mara, with the Spaniard making way on a stretcher after 10 minutes of medical attention.
Joao Felix’s injury time free-kick was beaten away by Bazunu and Mara even threatened a second with a breakaway run. But after 12 desperate minutes of injury time, Chelsea ran out of ideas and now sit 23 points behind leaders Arsenal, while Southampton have renewed hope of survival. The predictable boos at full-time underlined the gravity of this desperate situation and begs the question as to whether this project is allowed to continue until the end of the season.