Chelsea 1 Southampton 1
It seems almost ridiculous to contemplate it in a season in which Arsenal and Manchester United have endured some miserable lows.
But could both those misfiring teams be in danger of joining a four-horse race for the Premier League title?
Chelsea’s 1-1 draw against Southampton yesterday, just 24 hours after Manchester City were beaten by Burnley, has suddenly opened up the possibility of a race to the line not just for the top two but for those lurking behind.
Jose Mourinho’s men remain firm favourites, they are now six points ahead of City with a game in hand, but this result confirmed they are hardly firing on all cylinders at a crucial stage in the season while Arsenal are only one further point adrift with a home game against the leaders to come.
In isolation a 1-1 draw against a very good Southampton side should not be a big concern for Chelsea fans; but put it in the context of a string of below-par performances – a draw against Burnley, an FA Cup defeat against Bradford and a Champions League exit at the hands of PSG in midweek for instance – and it looks more serious. Having gone ahead through Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were pegged back by a Dusan Tadic penalty and only really found any momentum in the second half when they were denied by an excellent Fraser Forster.
“There are two perspectives, and I have both with me,” said Mourinho afterwards. “I’m not happy with the result, but I am with the six point lead. I’m not jumping with happiness and not crying in disappointment. But two points more would mean another draw we could have and still be top, so of course it is not a good result.”
This has been a complicated week for Mourinho, whose response to Chelsea going out of Europe — has been typically self-centred.
No big surprise, that, because whenever Chelsea are under pressure you can be pretty sure that The Special One will find a way to hog the headlines and divert attention from his under-performing players.
This time he provided reporters will a long rant about why he is the best manager and rounded on television pundits who questioned the discipline of his team.
Chelsea did go ahead when Diego Costa headed home a Branislav Ivanovic free-kick after just 11 minutes – significant because it was his first goal since January 17 when he scored in a victory over Swansea.
But Southampton, who dominated midfield against a weary-looking Fabregas and Oscar, continually found space for Mane — playing in behind recalled Irishman Shane Long — and were the more creative.
The visitors equalised through a Dusan Tadic penalty after Mane was brought down by Matic (Mourinho didn’t think it should have been given of course) and Chelsea, denied a penalty when Ivanovic was tripped at the other end, needed Courtois to make excellent saves from both Manet and Alderweireld to stay in the game.
After the break, however, Costa hit the post while Forster made a fine double save from Oscar and then Hazard as the intensity of the match grew. In fact Forster took the man of the match award as Chelsea desperately looked for a winner.
Given the way Manchester City are wobbling it may not feel so painful when the final table takes shape in May, but Arsenal and even United suddenly have a chink of light to aim for; and so Mourinho is getting the mind games in early. Perhaps he feels heaping title pressure on Arsene Wenger’s side now will see them crumble later; but when asked if Arsenal’s momentum could help them lift the trophy he couldn’t resist one last dig at an old rival.
“Which momentum? 3-1 against Monaco or 3-0 against West Ham? It depends on the momentum,” he said.
CHELSEA: Courtois 7, Ivanovic 7, Cahill 6, Terry 6, Azpilicueta 6, Matic 5 (Ramires 54; 7), Fabregas 6, Willian 6 (Cuadrado 83), Oscar 5 (Remy 82), Hazard 7, Costa 7.
SOUTHAMPTON: Forster 7, Clyne 7, Fonte 6, Alderweireld 7, Bertrand 6, Wanyama 7, Schneiderlin 7, Davis 7 (Ward-Prowse 71), Tadic 7 (Djuricic 71), Mane 8, Long 7 (Pelle 83).
Referee: Mike Dean
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