St.Mary's, Tuesday, 19:45
Romeo Lavia scored his first Premier League goal for Saints with an absolute cracker. Unfortunately he was injured later in the game and we will now not get to see his silky skills for six weeks
Earwig-o for the Silly Season where everything gets buggered up to allow FIFA to hold the Sportswashing Winter World Cup in the Desert. Madness! The early start means we are already 4 games in with 4 points to show for our efforts.
Defeat at Spurs was to be expected but the comeback draw with Leeds and the routine win at Leicester showed a degree of spirit we've rarely seen from Saints sides in recent seasons. We deserved at least a draw with United but juggling the ball in your own box does not count as handball when United do it.
Chelsea up next so that is 3 of the Big Six in our first 5. Tuchel has been rebuilding his squad and will have some new faces on the pitch. Last season they put 6 past us but with Werner back at RBL and Alonso en-route to Barca that is half of those goals gone away. As with any of the top clubs, we need them to have an off day and us to be right at it to get anything.
I don't see many changes from Saturday's team and, with 5 subs now allowed, it is much easier to make tactical changes during the game. We will start 4-2-2-2 or 4-2-3-1 and I would like to see Mara playing up top with Che for at least 45m against the Blues.
In the end both teams made changes from their previous starting XIs. Perraud made his first start with Djenepo making way and Diallo replaced Alfa who is heading back to La Liga. Reece James' illness, Chalobah's injury and Gallegher's red card saw them replaced by Azpilicueta, Koulibaly and Ziyech.
BT's search for Chelsea pundits had only unearthed Joe Cole so they also added St Frannie Benali and Jermaine Jenas off the One Show. Ralph's interview gave little away apart from his dislike for playing well but not scoring and the quality of Chelsea FC. Tuchel was moaning about a lack of midfielders with Kante out and Kovacic only on the bench. Found this strange as he also had Gilmour (Scotland's Player of 2021) on the bench. He remained unused and jumped at the opportunity to join Brighton 36 hours later! Adam Somerton commentated with help from Steve McManaman.
Michael Oliver is the best current referee by some distance so, with him in charge, I was not expecting to get any big club bias which had blighted the United game.
Chelsea, in their blue kit, kicked off towards the Chapel End. Saints saw a lot of the ball and got the first shot away. On 3m Ché won the ball played up to him (something that carried on all night) and laid it off to Moi whose shot was claimed by Mendy. Chelsea's first attack was set up by their captain Azpilicueta but Salisu saw off Sterling and cleared. KAP then got down our right but his effort was blocked by RL-C (who we will surely sign one day).
Chelsea began to enjoy some possession, but Saints fell back to block the spaces like a well oiled machine. Adam was again wide left and his persistence forced their skipper to concede the first corner. JWP had two goes at crossing, but nothing came from either. Adam then showed great ball control on halfway before then running the ball out. Calm down! Calm down!
Saints fans were liking what they were watching as their songs rang round the ground. Our players were going in hard too: Chelsea won free kicks when Perraud fouled Sterling and JWP did RL-C. Baz claimed the first kick and Ché headed the 2nd away.
The Salisu long throw is now "a thing" and he got his first chance soon after. You know they are serious when ABK goes up to join the forwards. Chelsea were able to clear this one, Cuccurella (I can't keep typing that so let's say) #22 brought the ball out, found The Skate (Mount), who set up Sterling. He didn't quite get hold of it so Baz was able to save his shot.
Mount was beginning to influence things. Next he set up Ziyech but his shot missed. Then it was all down the Chelsea end for another brace of unproductive long throws. but we were definitely spending too much time defending now. On 21m #22 and Sterling set up Mount, but Salisu blocked it - corner CFC.
Saints survived this but back they came, ABK making a fantastic block to deny Sterling. They came down the left again, #22 finding Mount whose cross reached Sterling. Perraud initially stopped him from shooting, but the England man turned 360 degrees and slotted it past Baz. 23 minutes gone and Chelsea were a goal up.
Saints' response was impressive. I've lost count of the times we've collapsed against Big 6 sides but not this Tuesday. We camped in the Chelsea half, retained the ball, passed and moved and they could not get out. Both the full backs had crosses blocked before they finally broke out. Pouring forward, Ziyech set up Havertz but Baz was equal to his angled shot.
Another smart passing move saw us get down the other end and, with Ché in close proximity, their skipper opted to stick it behind for a corner. This wasn't one of JWP's better crosses, met by Azpilicueta at the near post but, in stretching to clear, he merely diverted it diagonally across the box. With Mount not close enough to block, Romeo Lavia took aim and hit a rasping shot past the dive of Mendy. It had taken 5 minutes to wipe out CFC's lead!
SMS was rocking as the home team were now delivering on their earlier promises. Nor did they pull the old "concede immediately after scoring" trick. Chelsea's next attack was seen off by Lavia who sent Saints forward again. It only resulted in another long throw, but we were playing at the right end of the pitch. AA was giving Azpilicueta a hard time but, when past him, his shot didn't trouble Mendy. On 36m he was in again but again the keeper held his shot.
Play was halted as Ziyech was down, needing treatment, which saw all the other players head to the touchline for drinks &/or coaching. A rare Chelsea attack saw #22 try to go by ABK. The German merely got in his way and let the ball run out, getting a shove in the back from the miffed Spaniard. Grow some muscles, weakling!
Saints seem to have ditched playing it out from the back as, at every opportunity, the ball was laid back to Baz who launched it long. Every time Ché won the ball, on his head or on his chest. He was so dominant that the Chelsea defenders had stopped competing with him and dropped off to hunt the 2nd balls.
The Fourth Official signalled +2m at the end of the half, just as Saints launched another passing move. Chelsea were robbed on halfway and Diallo set off. He was challenged by Ziyech, but got by him. Approaching the box he saw JWP in space to his left and sent the ball his way. The skipper had Perraud outside him and fed the ball into his path.
Looking up, the Frenchman saw Chelsea's defenders retreating, but AA in space in front of goal. His inch perfect pass reached the #9 who took a touch before smashing it, left footed towards goal. Koulibaly was the nearest defender but his body was not square on so the ball deflected off his back and flew past Mendy's outstretched arm. 2-1 Saints and the crowd was ecstatic: as was Frannie during the half time analysis, while Joe Cole looked for all the world like a bastard on Father's Day.
Tuchel's midfield problems got worse over half time and we subsequently heard Loftus-Cheek had damaged a hamstring. He was replaced by the half fit Kovacic and one imagines Billy Gilmour was already on the phone to his agent saying "Get me out of here FFS!"
The early stages of the second half were a bit scruffy and it was Chelsea who were first to launch a meaningful attack. Kovacic (who actually looked OK) found Silva but his shot was superbly blocked by Lavia and cleared.
It was during this period I began to notice what a shift was being put in by some unlikely players. AA was up and back on the left with Moi doing the same on the right. He was giving their #22 the jitters by taking him on at every opportunity but also getting back to help KWP when required. There was no Saints player who wasn't without fear. We always say Saints need to give everything to compete with richer clubs, but here we were seeing it happen on the pitch and I began to believe we could win this.
On 52m, Chelsea were trying to play out but Koulibaly was hustled by AA who sent Perraud away. His measured cross was met by Moi's diving header, which deflected off a Chelsea body and flew into the air. As ever, Ché won it and played it back to the Norwegian who toe poked it goalwards, where Mendy grabbed it above his head. That was close to a THIRD.
While I was writing about that I heard Salisu had been booked, apparently for a foul on Sterling. As the hour approached, Chelsea's growing frustration was evident. First Sterling went down in the box as if fouled by Perraud. The Ref told him to get up. Shortly after KWP took the ball off Mount and the Skate had a hack at him. LOL!
However well things are going, football always kicks you in the teeth. On 57m Ziyech tried to find Havertz who was clearly offside but the flag didn't go up. Saints defended the situation and when the ball went dead and the flag was raised, Lavia was flat out on the ground and unable to continue. While the Medics assisted the young Belgian, Joe Aribo was prepared to come on. He replaced Lavia on 60m. Ralph says he'll be out for 6 weeks. Thanks PGMOL. Twats!
Joe's first action won a throw and Salisu came up to take it. Nothing came directly from it but ABK remained forward and was upended as he went past Sterling. The free kick came to naught, but KWP and Aribo soon worked the ball to Moi whose cross was headed out for a corner.
Chelsea cleared it, but as Ziyech broke away he was fouled by JWP who got yellow carded. Then, on 66m, Chelsea finally got a cross (from Azpilicueta) onto Havertz's head, but his attempt cleared the bar. That was his last involvement as Tuchel made a triple substitution. They brought on Pulisic, Chillwell and Broja for Havertz, Jorginho and their skipper.
From this point the game became noticeably quicker with Pulisic deployed on the right, but it was Aribo on our right winning another throw. This time, after Chelsea had cleared their lines, ABK remained prone in their box. Drinks/coaching ensued but this time the medics got our young star back into the game.
We continued to give #22 a torrid time and on 73m Ché forced him to concede a corner, Before taking it, Saints sent on Djenepo for Perraud who'd had a good first outing after injury. This time JWP's cross was on the money, finding the head of Sailsu. His downward header was past Mendy but the wily Silva knocked it away and Chelsea survived.
Saints continued to look more likely to score the next goal. Aribo again went past players on the right before Moi carried the ball forwards, riding 3 tackles as he went. Finally Ché was fouled by #22 to stop us. Nothing came from that free kick, but as Chelsea broke Saints fell back into their defensive shape. The ball was played to Pulisic on the wing, where Diallo took it from him and was immediately upended. The American was booked.
Chelsea's next attack was better, Sterling delivered a decent cross which Broja met, but Baz got across to tip his header round the post. Saints survived the corner but were suddenly lying too deep and inviting pressure. Chelsea still struggled to create and Sterling was closed down so well his cross went straight into Baz's gloves.
On 86m Ralph replaced AA with Lyanco. Not sure what tactical changes were made, but from then on it seemed ABK was all over Broja who didn't get another sniff. The dying minutes saw Chelsea up their efforts, but we defended like fiends. Moi and Djenepo both did their defending jobs, but also broke away quickly to relieve the pressure. Pulisic had to bring the latter down, but Baz launched the free kick the length of the pitch anyway.
In 5 added minutes we continued to work hard and frustrate Chelsea. The only chances they created were shots from distance by Kovacic and Mount, both blocked by Saints bodies. Towards the end they sent Mendy (and the kitchen sink) up for a corner which was dealt with. Shortly afterwards, the final whistle confirmed a fine win for Saints.
Ralph and his crew were ecstatic. The only person more chuffed was Frannie in the BT studio.
Since I've been reporting on Saints - a very long time - there have been times when I've struggled to find any worthy nominees. This match presents a very different problem. There were so many great performances that I struggle to find just one. Not a single player was poor. Indeed, the worst rating I could give would be Quite Good for Bazunu - but only because the guys in front were so good he wasn't needed much.
It is now Friday evening and I have, of course, read other reports and none have selected the same MoM. One had Ché, another Perraud - hard to argue against, No doubt Garth Crooks would pick Adam or Romeo (because they scored). So I feel obliged to justify my opinion.
We know our players have strengths and weaknesses, but tonight we learned that when they are all AT IT, we have a pretty decent team. I'm therefore selecting the player who most surprised me. The player who showed me stuff I didn't think was in his locker. The player that ran, and tackled and was a bloody nuisance all night to CFC. My MoM is Moi Elyounoussi.
IBO Reporter: Spot51
Saints second was scored by Adam Armstrong in time added at the end of the first half and a very popular goal it was too