After Southampton’s victory at Stamford Bridge at the weekend, Sky Sports’ Greg Whelan asked Jose Mourinho one question. The Chelsea boss gave a seven minute response. In his answer the Portuguese manager hit out once more at match officials, brought his belief that there is a campaign against his side back to the forefront of everybody’s attention and addressed his own future at the Bridge. Not once in his seven minute long rant/monologue did he praise the side that deserved the victory at the home of the champions on Saturday evening.
Mourinho’s post match antics overshadowed a convincing Southampton performance and result with attention focused on his comments regarding his future and match officials. Again, some fans argue that is exactly what Mourinho wants as more focus is on his controversial comments rather than on his team and their below par performances. Whether Mourinho’s comments about Eva Carneiro, Arsene Wenger, match officials or anything else he wishes to highlight are his actual beliefs, tactics or a combination of the two is up for discussion. But what I don’t think is up for discussion is the fact that Ronald Koeman’s Southampton deserve more credit than Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea deserve criticism.
The Saints started the season with, and quite rightly so, even greater expectation on their shoulders than at the start of last season. After defying the odds, a record breaking season and qualification into the Europa League, there was a lot of expectancy around St. Mary’s as well as the rest of the league at the start of this campaign. The first few games of the season seemed to be the complete opposite to the Southampton that we familiarised ourselves with last campaign. Koeman’s men were shipping in goals and were shying away from the attractive passing game that they received plaudits for throughout their impressive campaign last season. This ultimately led to Southampton’s sluggish start to the season and their departure from the Europa League after a lacklustre performance in Denmark.
Recent games both in the league and in the cup have seen the Saints improve and return to the Southampton that the Premier League has grown to know. In the last four games, Southampton have found the net 14 times and have started to replicate the threat going forward that became so prominent in their football last season. But this weekend, their impressive attacking movement was accompanied by resolute defending that culminated in a fantastic performance and a memorable result.
Many Saints fans have said that Saturday’s result is one of the best since their return to the top flight and it’s hard to argue with that. A finally settled defence looked assured for the most part of the game, with only a brilliant Willian free kick seeing the Blues put the ball past Maarten Stekelenberg and did not cause too many more problems for the Saints defence. The signing of centre back Virgil van Dijk and the return of Ryan Bertrand, who doesn’t look like he’s missed a second of action since returning to the side from injury, has seen Ronald Koeman finally able to pick his preferred backline. Portuguese right back Cedric Soares has improved with each game whilst compatriot and skipper Jose Fonte leadership is essential to the side.
Victor Wanyama showed his worth yet again on Saturday and has put his transfer window drama behind him to showcase how pivotal his physical presence is in front of the Saints backline. Although filling the hole that Morgan Schneiderlin made his own for seven years in the midfield is a challenging task, Saints have a range of talented options who can partner Wanyama. There was longstanding media speculation about many of Saints’ signings such as Juanmi, Virgil van Dijk and Jordy Clasie but the capture of Oriol Romeu appeared to have slipped under the radar and could prove to be one of Koeman’s shrewdest pieces of business this season. The former Chelsea man has had a point to prove after his spell at Stamford Bridge and has started excellently. He was replaced at half time by academy product James Ward-Prowse who Koeman believes may have found his position after a run of games in a more defensive minded midfield role.
The ever reliable Steven Davis finally broke his duck with a good finish after good hold up play by Graziano Pelle, part of the captivating front three that caused the Chelsea defence all sorts of problems on Saturday. The skill, interplay and the speed at which Pelle, Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic break make them a joy to watch and cause any defence problems which they proved when they ran a defence made up of more than 200 international caps ragged.
Saints arrived at Stamford Bridge with a game plan and they executed it excellently against a fragile Chelsea side. Although Chelsea have made a lacklustre start to the season, Southampton’s victory should not be underestimated. This Chelsea side still possess world class players and have one of the best managers at the helm. Southampton’s victory against them at the weekend showed that they are near to, if not at, the same levels that they showed last campaign. The 3-1 victory marks one of the biggest results in recent memory for Saints. It may not be the biggest in terms of the 8-0 drubbing of Sunderland, but it is one of the biggest in terms of the opponent, the occasion and the overwhelming pride that comes with it.
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