Both Southampton and Chelsea have been in great form recently and a good match of football was expected when the two sides met at St. Mary’s. Southampton initially got the lead courtesy a Shane Long’s strike. Unfortunately for the hosts, Cesc Fabregas nullified the damage and Branislav Ivanovic scored to give the Blues all the three points.
Here are three things we learned from the game
Ivanovic looks miles better, playing centrally
The centre-back pairing for Chelsea looked excellent today. Cahill and Ivanovic both dominated the box and dealt with a very attack minded Southampton well. Ivanovic looked so much more comfortable playing centrally than he has as a full-back. The player’s significant dip in form this season has got him much criticism. Last season, Matic was a rock in the midfield which respited the defence including right-back Ivanovic. He didn’t have to run back as much as Matic had it covered and the full back could make attacking runs without worrying about tracking back. However, this season, the midfielder’s form also took a severe dip and the lack of adequate cover in the midfield hurt the defence. Ivanovic was pretty much being skinned on the flank.
He operated centrally today in the absence of Zouma and Terry and looked far more comfortable. He was solid at the back but his biggest contribution on the pitch was obviously the winning goal. Once John Terry is back in the side, Hiddink should consider choosing Ivanovic to partner the Chelsea captain over Cahill, who has been average at best for some time now.
Kenedy over Oscar?
21-year-old Baba Rahman was scapegoated for Shane Long’s header as the Southampton striker pounced on a mistake from the defender and clipped the shot beyond Thibaut Courtois. The Chelsea keeper was also slow to react and come off his line. But Rahman’s mistake was more obvious and he was immediately replaced by Kenedy, something that will only hurt the youngster’s confidence. The attacking Kenedy operated as a makeshift left-back for the rest of the game.
The summer signing has done pretty well for himself and the attacker played as a defender and still managed to impress. Perhaps Hiddink subbed him in because of his attacking strengths since Baba Rahman wasn’t going forward enough. Regardless, the change worked.
Considering the amount of work the 20-year-old put in, coupled with his skill, he definitely makes a case for his inclusion in the starting eleven more often. The player he should come in for has to be compatriot Oscar. Oscar’s role in the side has been a confusing one. He has been used as a number 10, a box-to-box midfielder and even further behind and he really hasn’t done all too well in any position to warrant a consistent starting spot. Chelsea can cash in on him in the summer and get most of the money they spent on him back. They have a perfect replacement for him already in the team and at the moment, Kenedy’s ceiling looks much higher than where Oscar is right now.
Hiddink can get Chelsea a European spot
With 36 points, Chelsea are now only 5 points behind sixth placed Manchester United and a European spot for next season. While Europa League is not that attractive, there is absolutely no doubt that the Blues will want to finish as high up in the table as they can and getting a European spot would be a big achievement considering the way things were when Mourinho was still in charge. Guus Hiddink has steadily done his job with the team. The quality was always there but the confidence had been lost, for one reason or another, under Mourinho.
Chelsea remain unbeaten under Hiddink in the Premier League and going by their current form, there is no reason why they cannot make a serious case for a European berth by the end of the season.