Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw by a battling Southampton in the Premier League’s early kick-off.
Thomas Tuchel’s side dominated the first half in terms of possession, but as has been the case in several of first games under the new manager, that didn’t always translate to lots of chances on goal – Marcos Alonso’s wayward volley was one of few efforts they managed.
Saints were diligent about their defensive work and then shocked the Blues with just about their first attack, after the half-hour mark, as Takumi Minamino ran through the centre, sat down defender and goalkeeper and coolly finished with the outside of his boot.
Mason Mount won a penalty and took it himself for the equaliser shortly into the second half, but despite continued control of the ball it was Saints who went closest to a second goal with Jannik Vestergaard’s header hitting the bar.
Here are five things we learned from the game at St. Mary’s on Saturday.
The early weeks of Tuchel’s reign have seen Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho pair up in midfield, with the former in particular showing particularly good form.
That skill-set was quickly on show, with Kante effective in ensuring Chelsea remained dominant in possession by winning the ball back within seconds – he led the game by a distance for tackles, was able to show good positional work to intercept through-passes and his driving from deep was occasionally on show, too.
This was an early indication that Kante and Kovacic, who the manager has also singled out for praise, will be Tuchel’s first-choice pairing when possible.
In what has been a very settled Southampton team for the best part of two years, it was the largely unfamiliar faces who impressed here.
Moussa Djenepo has been involved over the last 18 months, but only intermittently due to injury. Here he was extremely hard-working, filled an important tactical role in the first half in particular and did all the parts of the game he clearly doesn’t appreciate too much – namely getting clattered by the opposition on a regular basis.
Takumi Minamino joined in the winter window and netted his second goal on loan with a brilliant piece of composure – that’s already more league goals than he has scored for parent club Liverpool.
And Mohammed Salisu, who signed in summer but has been injured, was largely accomplished at the heart of the defence, strong in the challenge and always alert to runs in behind.
For all his team’s domination of possession, the manager spent an awful lot of time cutting a frustrated figure, gesticulating and shouting to his team.
A fair amount of German from the sidelines was presumably directed at Timo Werner after losing possession a number of times, but there were also definitely cutting words aimed in the direction of his wing-backs and when play was slow coming out of defence.
The standards he is trying to reach are clearly lofty ones, and they won’t happen overnight.
Chelsea already look a far more cohesive and well-structured outfit than under Lampard and there is more of a planned approach to their build-up play too, but that section of the game plan is still lacking in cutting edge and a clinical touch – both issues which plagued long stretches of his predecessor’s reign.
Chances missed for Euros claim
Looking slightly longer-term, the forthcoming Euro 2020 championships will likely see a few players from these clubs representing England, with Mason Mount a certainty and James Ward-Prowse hopeful of inclusion. Ben Chilwell would have been considered a definite, but he’s still out of the picture at present, with Alonso in at left wing-back.
In attack, though, a direct battle for a spot in Gareth Southgate’s squad took place – and neither player put forward a strong case.
Harry Kane will be the No. 9, but Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Danny Ings and Tammy Abraham will all hope to play the back-up role.
Ings had zero service, so was hardly likely to impress in an attacking sense on the day, but he also struggled in his hold-up play and gave away Chelsea’s penalty with a reckless tackle.
Abraham toiled away surrounded by defenders for 45 minutes before being replaced at the break – so a stalemate between the two, which is very definitely not what strikers need to stake a claim.
After a club record six straight defeats, Southampton simply had to mount a response on this occasion and find a way to avoid another loss.
There might be some frustration at the manner of conceding the equaliser, but a draw was a creditable result and the overall performance was good in a disciplined sense, if entirely unadventurous for the most part.
Chelsea, meanwhile, had put themselves into the top four with their recent run, but the lack of scoring chances in another game shows that Tuchel still has familiar issues to solve quickly if they are to stay there – the nature of the season means points will be dropped by everybody, so consistency is key.
A point on the road isn’t the worst, so perhaps both teams will take the positives from this occasion.