Chelsea lost further ground on the Premier League’s top three with a goalless draw with Southampton.
Maurizio Sarri’s men dominated most of the play at Stamford Bridge but could not break down a well organised Southampton defence.
But what did we learn from the stalemate?
1. Sarrismo hits a brick wall again
Chelsea have been playing some positive football since Sarri took over in the summer and already look on a completely new level to the defensive, “suffering” style of play implemented by Antonio Conte.
FT Chelsea 0-0 Southampton:
Pass accuracy: 85%-66%
Chances created: 13-3
Blues are held to a goalless draw by a resilient Saints team. pic.twitter.com/m3xjpN6z5M
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 2, 2019
But, once again the Blues were stopped in their tracks by a good defensive wall, this time set out by Southampton. In the first half at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea had 73% of possession and nine shots on goal. But Sarri’s men only really tested Angus Gunn on one occasion, when the debuting goalkeeper saved Hazard’s shot well when one-on-one.
And it continued after half-time as Chelsea’s possession proved for nought with Southampton refusing to be suckered into Sarrismo, happy to sit deep while defending. A lack of attacking options on the bench hurt Chelsea when it was time to make the changes with Ruben Loftus-Cheek brought on early and Cesc Fabregas coming on midway through the second half.
But neither could bring the changes to the game Sarri required to keep pressure on those above them, ensuring the Blues have failed to score for two consecutive home games – kicking off 2019 in the same way they did 2018, with a draw.
2. Ralph’s revolution rolls on
Southampton have been slowly improving since Ralph Hasenhuttl took charge in December, and Wednesday represented another step in the right direction.
Having already beat Arsenal 3-2 under the Austrian, Southampton were brought back down to earth with a relatively straightforward 3-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester City on Sunday – a performance which would have had some Saints fans expecting another poor defeat.
But Southampton clearly learned from their mistakes against City, holding firm against Chelsea’s passing play, not opening any gaps for the Blues by unnecessarily pressing high up the pitch. Even when Chelsea found their way into their box, the Southampton defenders were there to deny with Maya Yoshida producing a good challenge on N’Golo Kante late on when the Frenchman looked set to pull the trigger.
Saints frustrated Chelsea throughout and were well deserving of the point. But they now need to build on this result, as they did the win over Arsenal, and start turning their season around.
3. Chelsea may want to rethink their Pulisic deal
The biggest transfer news story of the window so far came on Wednesday morning when Chelsea announced the signing of Christian Pulisic for £58m. However, the 20-year-old winger was immediately loaned back to Borussia Dortmund for the remainder of the season, set to eventually link up with his new club in the summer.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 2, 2019
But Chelsea may have made a mistake in allowing Dortmund to keep their newest signing as Maurizio Sarri’s injury problems begin to tot up. The Blues were already without Pedro, Victor Moses and Callum Hudson-Odoi going into Wednesday’s match with Eden Hazard and Willian the only fit wingers in the Chelsea squad.
Thirty-seven minutes into their game against Southampton and Eden Hazard remained as the club’s sole fit first-team winger as Willian had to be taken off with what appeared to be a calf injury.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek was brought on to replace the Brazilian and shifted to right wing as he has been on various occasions already this season, but the Englishman is not nearly as affective out wide as he is in the middle of the pitch.
Hudson-Odoi’s injury seems the least damaging of those already out injured, and the youngster may just be finding some more playing time in the coming weeks.
4. Angus Gunn stakes his England claim
Wednesday night was a big occasion for Southampton goalkeeper Angus Gunn, making his Premier League debut 20 days before his 23rd birthday.
Angus Gunn made 6️⃣ saves on his @premierleague debut v Chelsea
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) January 2, 2019
At 22 years and 346 days, Gunn became the youngest English goalkeeper to start their first Premier League match since Jordan Pickford (21y 315d) on January 16, 2016. And Gunn could be competition for Pickford in the England set up for years to come.
A promising young goalkeeper, Gunn joined Southampton in the summer from Manchester City having spent last season on loan at Norwich City in the Championship and had made three League Cup appearances for Saints so far.
Not daunted by the occasion of his Premier League debut, Gunn was in good form to keep a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge, matching everything thrown at him including two saves from Eden Hazard.
Before the match Hasenhuttl had confirmed Gunn would also be starting Southampton’s next game, against Derby County in the FA Cup, but the goalkeeper may just find himself in the team once more after Wednesday’s performance.
5. Cesc Fabregas says farewell
Cesc Fabregas’ time at Chelsea appears to be running out, with the Spaniard’s contract up at the end of the season. But, according to reports, Fabregas could be leaving Stamford Bridge as early as this month with Monaco among many names linked with the midfielder.
— Simon Johnson (@sjstandardsport) January 2, 2019
Given what may be one last run out in front of the Chelsea fans, Fabregas showed he can still play at the top level with some intricate passing and chance creation.
Within just minutes of coming on, the Spaniard’s neat pass from just outside the area played in Alvaro Morata and the forward finished coolly – only for a very tight offside call to remove Fabregas’ assist.
Fabregas also had a role to play in another chance for Chelsea with a good long pass to Ruben Loftus-Cheek who played in Morata, but the Spaniard’s shot was tame.
After the game, it looked as though the Spaniard was saying farewell to the Chelsea fans, staying behind to soak up the applause from all parts of Stamford Bridge. This, despite Sarri pleading with the Spaniard to stay at Chelsea, saying: “I want him to stay, I don’t know the final decision of Cesc and the club of course.
“But for me it’s very important and if Cesc will go I think that we need to buy another player, and it’s not easy because, technically, Cesc is a very important player.
“And I think that in the market it’s very difficult to find a player with his characteristics.”
Getting his 500th appearance in English football and 350th in the Premier League, there’s life in the old dog yet and Fabregas will make a good signing this January.