28/12/2014: Saints 1-1 Chelsea
Saints claimed a precious point against league leaders Chelsea following a brave performance. The home side matched their opponents for much of the first half, and defended resolutely in the second. Saints remain in 4th place going into 2015.
Ronald Koeman reverted back to 4-3-3, with Maya Yoshida filling in for the injured Nathaniel Clyne at right-back. Chelsea were on top during the first 15 minutes. The game was being played at a fairly low tempo, with Saints weathering the early storm. The visitors had plenty of possession, but Saints were extremely well organised and defended with plenty of spirit throughout. Koeman's men were very compact, with Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama dropping deep to protect the back four.
Saints went close with their first major attack on 14, when Jose Fonte just missed the ball at the far post from Sadio Mane's header. The home side would only have to wait 3 minutes for the next chance, and this time they took it. Matt Targett's long pass up-field was chested down by Graziano Pelle. Dusan Tadic then poked the ball towards Mane, who beat the offside trap before neatly finishing past Thibaut Courtois.
Saints continued their positive approach for much of the first-half. Koeman's side were involved in plenty of intricate play in Chelsea's half, creating a few half-chances, the best of which fell to Pelle on 44. Chelsea were always a threat on the break, though. Eden Hazard was particularly dangerous. Having defended so well for much of the half, Saints wilted deep into stoppage time. For the first and only time in the game the hosts were caught out at the back. Hazard latched on to a long ball before cutting inside and finishing into the bottom corner.
Saints spent pretty much the entire second half on the back-foot. Chelsea thought they should have had a penalty when Cesc Fabregas was challenged by Targett, but the Spaniard was booked for diving. For all the Chelsea pressure, their final ball was mostly lacking. Saints had a few breaks. Mane received the ball in the area on 69, but was crowded out by opposition defenders.
Chelsea turned up the intensity during the last 15, with Saints tiring slightly. James Ward-Prowse's slack back pass almost played in Diego Costa, but the centre forward slipped as the ball rolled past him. Didier Drogba came agonisingly close to getting on the end of a cross in the six-yard box. There were plenty more nervy moments like that. Saints had to make do with 10 men during stoppage time, after Morgan Schneiderlin received his second booking for a late challenge on Fabregas. Saints managed to hold out in the end for a satisfying point.
Saints were well worthy of a point, having displayed brilliant spirit and organisation throughout. Koeman's charges did cause Chelsea problems going forward in the first half too, with Mane looking particularly dangerous. It was heartening to see the team do so well without two important players (Ryan Bertrand and Nathaniel Clyne). Talk of European football may still seem fanciful to some, but the fact that we're even in contention at this stage of the season is something to be proud of. Saints have now played everyone and have shown that they can match it with the very best on their day.
Forster : 7. Didn't have too many saves to make, but calm and always well positioned
Yoshida: 7. A decent effort playing out of position. Generally in the right place at the right time and good distribution
Fonte: 7. Another assured display
Alderweireld: 7. Kept Costa and the rest pretty quiet
Targett: 7. Coped pretty well on the whole. Made some strong tackles and composed under pressure
Wanyama: 8. Did a great job of protecting the back four
Schneiderlin: 8. Made a number of vital interceptions. Sending off the only blemish on an otherwise top display
Davis: 7. Some good link-up play in the first-half and solid in his own half
Mane: 8. Caused Chelsea all sorts of problems in the first half. A real bag of tricks. Saw less of the ball in the second with Saints on the back foot, but still did well on the occasions he did get it
Tadic: 6. Delivery a bit off at times, but he did make the goal and was involved in some good build up play
Pelle: 7. Put himself about and some good flicks and headers
Ward-Prowse: 6. Nearly gifted Chelsea a great opening, but otherwise decent defensively
Gardos: 6. Slotted in fairly well. Made some good clearances
Long: Defended from the front
Saints - Mane (17)
Chelsea - Hazard (45)
Attendance - 31,641 (3,217 Chelsea fans)
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Saints: Forster, Yoshida (Gardos 62), Fonte, Alderweireld, Yoshida, Targett, Wanyama, Schneiderlin, S Davis (Long 77), Mane, Tadic (Ward-Prowse 58), Pelle
Subs not used: K Davis, McCarthy, Reed, Isgrove
Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Fillipe Luis, Mikel (Drogba 74), Matic, Schurrle (Willian 46), Fabregas, Hazard, Diego Costa (Remy 89)
Subs not used: Cech, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Ramires