We begin our round-up of Wednesday’s matches with an analysis of the only Gameweek 21 fixture to date without a goal.
Our latest Scout Notes article summarises the stand-out Fantasy talking points, manager quotes and injury updates from a scoreless encounter between Chelsea and Southampton in west London.
Chelsea 0-0 Southampton
Maurizio Sarri’s injury problems worsened at Stamford Bridge last night, with Willian (£7.2m) having to be substituted after 36 minutes of the goalless draw against Southampton with a knock.
The issue at least doesn’t sound too grave, with the Chelsea boss providing an update on both the Brazilian and Pedro (£6.3m) in his post-match press conference:
I don’t think Willian’s injury is very serious.
The report from the doctor is not serious for Pedro, I think in one week he will be able to train with his team-mates.
This match was difficult for me because Pedro, Giroud and Hudson-Odoi were out, and then after 35 minutes, Willian was out.
Sarri also offered further information on Olivier Giroud (£7.7m), who missed this encounter with the Saints due to an ankle injury picked up in the win over Crystal Palace last Sunday:
I think it’s better than what I thought after the Crystal Palace match. The doctor told me in ten days he will be able to train.
The problem is in this moment. Today was very important to try to change the match but it was impossible.
Sarri’s final comment there underscored Chelsea’s lack of goal threat at the moment, with the Blues yet again finding it difficult to cut open an opposition side who tried to suffocate their attack.
This was a similar performance to the one Sarri’s side gave in the narrow victory over Palace in Gameweek 20, with their opposition largely untroubled throughout and able to snuff out wave after wave of Chelsea attack before the Blues could carve out a genuine goal-scoring opportunity.
The Chelsea head coach added:
I think we played a very good match for 80 metres of the pitch, then we were in trouble for the last 20 metres.
We created opportunities, of course not too many, but it’s not easy in this kind of match because they were very low in density and compact, so it wasn’t easy. If you are able to score the first goal you can find spaces so it’s easier.
We have to try to solve the problem of the last 15 and 20 metres. In the last few matches we were in control against every team but at the moment it’s not easy for us to score the first goal. The performance was good.
Chelsea confirmed the signing of Christian Pulisic earlier on Wednesday, with the USA international being loaned back to Borussia Dortmund for the rest of the season.
When asked if the club were likely to add to their attacking ranks in January, Sarri commented:
I don’t know. I don’t know because I’m not in charge of the market. I have to think to my responsibility. I have to think to the pitch and the training. I have to try to improve my players, my team, my offensive phase, or better our offensive phase in the last 20 metres. We are very good to build up the action, I think. Now we have to improve in the last 20 metres. The club knows my position, my opinion. It’s up to the board, not me.
I’m not in charge of the market so it’s very difficult to speak about the market or the Pulisic deal. The board know my opinion. I think we need something different for characteristics.
The former Napoli manager’s words evoke memories of the frustrations that Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho felt towards the Chelsea board during their tenures.
The Blues certainly look one-dimensional in these types of matches, with Pedro’s absence perhaps the keenest felt and Sarri unwilling or unable to change personnel and system through a combination of lack of resources and sheer single-mindedness.
When the Italian has the right players at his disposal, there is little doubt that his approach is an effective one – as evidenced at Napoli over the last three seasons.
So much of Chelsea’s system is reliant on the metronomic passing of Jorginho (£4.8m) but when Chelsea’s opponents sit deep and the likes of Alvaro Morata (£8.4m) are offering limited movement ahead of him, the Italian “regista” is largely ineffective.
Defensive-minded teams whose ambition is to pinch a point against the Blues have long-since sussed out that by stopping Hazard, much of Chelsea’s attacking threat is neutralised.
The Belgium international certainly tried his damnedest to grab the game by the lapels, prowling around the Southampton area and ranking first or joint-first for touches in the final third, key passes, shots on goal, take-ons and penalty box touches.
Only Angus Gunn‘s (£4.3m) head prevented one of Hazard’s shots from hitting the back of the net and had that effort been a foot either side of the Southampton custodian’s skull then the Belgian’s owners/captainers would have been sitting pretty on eight points (pre-bonus) and this Scout Notes article would have a very different feel – such are the fine margins in FPL.
As it was, though, this was another frustrating day at the office.
Hazard was repeatedly crowded out by a swarm of red-and-white shirts, with his pass success rate in the opposition half and final third being the worst of all of Chelsea’s outfielders. No Blues player was tackled on more occasions, either.
In his four most-recent Premier League home starts against sides outside the “big six”, matches in which the Belgian is prime captaincy material, Hazard has no goals and one assist.
Owners are very unlikely to sell before an appealing home fixture against Newcastle United in Gameweek 22 but we know exactly what to expect from Rafael Benitez’s side (see their constricting performance in the reverse fixture in Gameweek 3) when they head to west London and the onus will again be on Chelsea to break down a stubborn rearguard.
Hazard’s personal underlying statistics remain positive (top among all FPL players for key passes over the last six Gameweeks and joint-second for big chances) but Chelsea aren’t – at the moment, at least – the exhilarating outfit that Liverpool, Spurs and both Manchester clubs currently are: in the last ten Gameweeks, the Blues haven’t scored more than two goals in a single Premier League match and only six top-flight teams have registered fewer goals than their 11 strikes over this very same period.
With a clean sheet and two bonus points, Marcos Alonso (£6.8m) recorded his highest single-round score since Gameweek 12.
The Chelsea left-back was noticeably prominent in his side’s attacks, registering the same number of attempts on goal as Hazard – none of which particularly troubled Gunn – and having a tame appeal for a penalty waved away late on.
Morata was by no means atrocious in the Chelsea attack, meanwhile, and arguably should have had his first Premier League goal since Gameweek 11 but for a marginal offside call to cut short his celebrations.
A couple of other unconvincing efforts betrayed his own lack of confidence and that of others in him, however. Once Pedro and Willian are fit, it is fairly safe to assume Hazard will be back up top in the “false nine” position.
While so much of this analysis has focused on Chelsea’s struggles, every credit should be given to Southampton.
Ralph Hasenhuttl had hinted that he was thinking about this encounter even during the Manchester City game and his well-rested troops – the Austrian manager made eight changes for this encounter – showed plenty of energy in closing down Chelsea’s danger-men and pressing aggressively from the front.
The Southampton boss said:
It was a good mixture between pressing a little bit higher sometimes to surprise them with earlier pressing and sometimes a little bit deep. I think the mixture was a good one.
It was mainly against the ball a fantastic performance from my team and that only could happen because we changed eight players. For sure for three times in a week we can’t do this job so it was important we changed six players against Man City and changed them back.
If we didn’t, we couldn’t defend like we did.
The impact of Hasenhuttl on his new charges is something we plan to analyse in detail over the coming week ahead of their appealing run of fixtures.
Gunn was excellent on his first ever Premier League start and will now be given another run-out in the FA Cup, though his manager refused to say whether he had completely displaced Alex McCarthy (£4.5m) as Southampton’s number one goalkeeper:
I think he did an amazing job. He is a very offensive defending goalkeeper and that is what I need against a team that is always playing the chipped balls behind the last line.
I was aware of them and we knew that they have good deep runs and this ball is very hard to defend for centre-backs so we need a keeper who is on the jump and defending forward, and there were a lot of situations where he saved the ball.
He is a very talented goalkeeper and I want to give him two games. This was the first and the second is against Derby County in the FA Cup.
I think he deserved to have a clean sheet.
I don’t think about this thing [who is his number one] at the moment.
Maya Yoshida (£4.1m) was superb at centre-back along with Jannik Vestergaard (£4.6m) but the Saints will now be without their Japanese defender for up to five weeks after his departure for the Asian Cup.
I miss Pierre Hojbjerg (who is suspended) and Maya Yoshida both until nearly the end of January and they are two of my best players.
We will find also a right decision to bring a good team on the pitch. We have to, and a team which has a good plan is a team that can also win without Maya or Pierre.
Danny Ings (£5.6m) was substituted at half-time of this match with a hamstring injury but the withdrawal was thought to be precautionary in nature.
Chelsea XI (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Barkley (Fabregas 68′); Willian (Loftus-Cheek 37′), Morata, Hazard.
Southampton XI (3-4-2-1): Gunn; Bednarek, Yoshida, Vestergaard; Valery, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Soares; Redmond (Stephens 90+5′), Armstrong (Austin 89′); Ings (Long 46′).
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