Friday 15 December 2017

Blues find old swagger but have questions still to answer

Southampton 1 Chelsea 2

Branislav Ivanovic celebrates scoring Chelsea's second goal. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images
Branislav Ivanovic celebrates scoring Chelsea's second goal. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images
Chelsea's Kenedy in action with Southampton's Sadio Mane. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Southampton's Jose Fonte tussels for the ball with Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta Photo: John Sibley/Action Images.
Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas is challenged for the ball by Southampton's Jose Fonte. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images

Jonathan Liew

That's why they were champions, once. For 70 minutes, Chelsea were nowhere: dominating possession, yet going through the motions.

But in the last 20 minutes, something clicked. In what Branislav Ivanovic described as their "hardest away game this season", something like the Chelsea of old emerged as they extended their domestic unbeaten run under Gus Hiddink to 13 games, with Ivanovic and Cesc Fabregas providing the goals.

The football may not quite be up to title standard yet - not for nothing are they still 11th in the table - but something more profound and abstract has returned. The open-mouthed swagger, the dagger-sharp killer instinct, the naked arrogance of rustling a game they had no right to be rustling.

Chelsea won largely by willing it so. And yet, yesterday morning, they would have woken up to comments from Frank Lampard criticising their lack of backbone and absence of genuine leaders.

"I do worry about where the real personalities of the team are," Lampard said. "To be a big team, you have to have big personalities."


Lampard said that only three men currently matched that description - Ivanovic, Diego Costa and John Terry.

Was he right? On the central point of leaders, Hiddink mentioned Cesc Fabregas, Cesar Azpilicueta, Oscar, Costa and Willian: players who, as he put it, "organise tactically" and "take command in the team".

Then there is Ivanovic, who in Terry's absence has assumed the captaincy, as well as his defensive and attacking duties.

Hiddink paid tribute to the Serb, a different but effective sort of leader. "He's not a big shouter, but he does the short commands," Hiddink said. "That's what I like very much as a manager."

Chelsea, who had looked so languid and error-prone, suddenly jolted themselves into life for the last 20 minutes.

Fabregas found his cutting edge. Costa found his mojo, squaring up to Virgil van Dijk, and getting the crowd on his back. Willian began to prance with intent.

Southampton, meanwhile, were left to rue a missed opportunity. As centre-half Van Dijk admitted, they were guilty of dropping too deep without the ball, inviting pressure.

For much of the second half, virtually their only attacking outlet was the long ball to an outnumbered Charlie Austin.

Shane Long was outstanding in defence and attack, and Southampton lacked bite after he was substituted on 69 minutes.

© Daily Telegraph, London.

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