Chelsea held by Southampton, extend Premier League lead to six points
LONDON -- Three thoughts on Chelsea and Southampton's 1-1 draw in the Premier League.
1. Chelsea extend their lead but don't convince
Chelsea mathematically stretch their Premier League lead to six points, but they still look very stretched themselves. This 1-1 draw with a vibrant Southampton was yet another underwhelming performance and yet another sign that they could allow what should be a procession to the title become rather problematic if they are not careful -- although it should still be a formality.
Right now, Jose Mourinho's team do not look very fresh and this game was far from straightforward, summing up so many recent problems for Chelsea. Despite Diego Costa ending his recent goal drought with a brilliant 11th-minute header from a Branislav Ivanovic cross, they again so quickly conceded an equaliser, as was the case with Paris Saint-Germain in midweek.
They were also guilty of making a mess of the concession, rather than it just being down to the quality of the opposition side's attack. On 18 minutes, Sadio Mane was sandwiched in the box between Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic, with the midfielder's sliding challenge looking particularly rash. Referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot, and Dusan Tadic picked his spot.
Thereafter, Southampton looked far better value for the win for the remainder of the first half, and consistently stretched Chelsea. The home side did rally after the break, with Costa looking particularly rampaging, but the goal never came.
That scarcely seemed believable in one stoppage-time siege, when Juan Cuadrado had a close-range shot saved by Fraser Forster, before John Terry saw one effort blocked and another go narrowly wide.
2. Mourinho's tactics under scrutiny again
There was an oddly familiar feeling of jadedness around Stamford Bridge on Sunday, as well as so many familiar failings, which have prevented what is a good season becoming a great one for Chelsea.
For one, there was oddly un-Mourinho-like failure to shut the game down. Southampton's quick equaliser was the 11th time this season that Chelsea have surrendered a lead having gone ahead. Just as it was vs. PSG, they gave up the goals alarmingly quickly and there was none of the bolt-like security we'd usually associate with Mourinho teams.
At the same time, this game perhaps illustrated why he remains so cautious in big matches. With Southampton outside the top four and not notionally possessing the quality of the top teams, Mourinho felt brave enough to go with his usual 4-2-3-1 and saw no need for an extra defensive midfielder.
It proved a mistake as Chelsea were so open and Southampton so regularly got in behind during the first half, with many moments coming down to the thinnest margins of the home side's offside line.
In that case, Mourinho has cause not to completely trust his defence, although the worry is why there are such extremes with his systems. Why is it either so cautious or so open? Why is there no in-between?
Momentum and the nature of the game eventually ensured Chelsea took the game to Southampton but, beyond straight runs at goal and the anger of Costa, there was no sophistication to their attack and no interchanges despite the quality of the attackers.
It is a worry and something Mourinho has to look at in the long term.
3. Southampton worthy of their point
If the title race isn't quite open yet, the chase for the top four is at full pace, and Southampton may yet catch up. They yet again showed they can recover from a stumble, yet again showed they are in the upper echelons to stay and yet again made life uncomfortable for one of the better teams.
This, after all, was their second 1-1 draw with Chelsea of the season and they might have even had more. Beyond the occasional openness of their defence, which saw Forster make a series of big saves in the second half, not least from Oscar, Saints manager Ronald Koeman got just about everything right.
They were tactically intelligent, compact and so often troubled Chelsea on the break. They also used the industry of Shane Long and pace of Mane so well, with the latter the key to their equalising goal.
Even more importantly, there was the feeling that Southampton had recovered some of the dynamism of earlier in the season. They might have rediscovered at just the right time.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.