A 3-2 reverse against Tottenham on 22nd December saw 2013 end on a sour note at St Mary’s, and the New Year got off to an equally disappointing start for Southampton, who had contained a quality Chelsea side for the first half of a largely entertaining contest on the south coast.
It was a goalless opening 45 minutes, where both teams defended strongly, though it was Kelvin Davis who was the busier of the two goalkeepers. He was quick off his line to thwart Ramires, and then denied the same man again with a decent one-handed save which prevented the winger’s rising shot from finding the target.
The opening goal was always likely to set the tone for a hard-fought game, and it arrive don the hour mark in somewhat fortuitous circumstances as Fernando Torres took full advantage of a rebound off the post to prod home from close range.
Saints provided a response with substitute Rickie Lambert heading at Petr Cech insider the area, but the game was effectively over when the Blues doubled their lead on 71 minutes through the Brazilian midfielder, Willian whose strong, low strike all-but confirmed the win.
The victory was secured by fellow substitute Oscar, who had earlier been booked for simulation in an attempt to win a penalty, but this time he showed composure to finish calmly past Davis with eight minutes remaining.
Pochettino made two changes to the starting line-up from the game against Everton with Morgan Schneiderlin and goal scorer from the game at Goodison - Gaston Ramirez, replacing James Ward-Prowse and Rickie Lambert.
Uruguyan Ramirez last started a Premier League game at St Mary’s at the tail end of last season, and was rewarded for his impressive cameo at Everton by getting the nod from the start of this game.
It was Ramirez and Jay Rodriguez who got the game underway, with Saints attacking the Northam stand in the first half on a wet and windy afternoon inside St Mary’s.
The slippery conditions made for a slightly unpredictable nature, and Chelsea tried to exploit that early on when Fernando Torres dispossessed Dejan Lovren, but his cross escaped the queue of blue shirts waiting in the box.
Torres was the beneficiary of a swift break soon after that as he outpaced Lovren and turned Fonte to bear down on goal, but the Portuguese defender recovered to deflect the striker’s shot out for a corner.
After Schurrle had seem a strike from the edge of the box fly wide, Saints defended another corner, but in the lead up to the delivery a clash of heads between Fonte and Lovren saw the Croat come off worse as he required a couple of minutes’ treatment before he could return to the action.
That short respite gave Saints a chance to settle, but no sooner had one player recovered from a knock then another had to receive medical attention as Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta briefly limped out of the action.
When play resumed, Kelvin Davis had to be on his guard to deny Ramires in the 13th minute. The Chelsea winger was set through one-on-one by Torres, but the Saints keeper was out quickly to make a timely intervention on the slide, just outside of his area.
On 17 a neat move down the left culminated with Ramirez finding Lallana inside the area, and the number 20 turned well to shoot, only for Ashley Cole to get a vital block on the strike to prevent it from testing Petr Cech.
Saints continued to press form there with a strong cross flying narrowly wide from the right flank, with the game opening out all the time.
Torres broke away again in the 20th minute to try his luck again, and the determination from the Spaniard saw him find room to shoot from the left, but he couldn’t keep his shot down as his effort flew over the top of Davis’s crossbar from 12 yards out.
The fast pace to the contest saw play swing from end-to-end, and provided plenty of easy-on-the-eye moments with Ramirez’s perfectly weighted pass over the top to Rodriguez the pick of those moves.
Chelsea sensed an opportunity when Hazard bulldozed his way through to play a one-two with Juan Mata before breaking into the area, but again, Davis was there out swiftly to get to the ball first.
Saints went close at the other end on 26 minutes when Chambers drilled in a low cross from the right, and at the second attempt, Lallana got a shot in which Azpilicueta blocked with his outstretched boot.
The hosts got back on the front-foot and after Ramirez had blazed over from distance, he delivered a free-kick into the area which Lovren couldn’t quite wrap his foot around, as he prodded the ball wide from six yards out and the angle against him.
Ten minutes before the break, Chelsea’s Ramires danced his way through the final third before getting the bit of fortune he needed to get a shot in at goal, but Davis was there again to make a fine one-handed save and tip the ball over the bar.
There were several miss-placed passes from both teams through midfield as the conditions worsened, but Chelsea created another good opportunity for themselves in the 39th minute when Hazard and Mata linked up to prize an opening, but a wall of red shirts prevented the visitors from getting an effort on goal.
Saints forced a couple of corners in the closing stages of the half, and continued to nullify their opponents in the four minutes allocated for stoppages to keep the game scoreless heading into the interval.
HALF-TIME: SOUTHAMPTON 0-0 CHELSEA
Nathaniel Clyne replaced Luke Shaw for the second 45 with the substitute taking up the left back role vacated by the youngster.
A feisty start to the half saw Ramirez booked for late lunge on Ashley Cole, but it was the home side that began the second 45 stronger.
There was an early chance too for Saints from a corner which fell to Fonte who took the first stab towards goal, but another wall of blue shirts continued to frustrate the hosts who were denied on the follow up when Rodriguez had a near post shot blocked by John Terry.
Rodriguez won Saints a corner off Gary Cahill, which came to nothing, and the play quickly swung back up the other end where the Blues won a corner for themselves, but they wasted it completely, as the ball drifted straight out of play.
On 53 Chelsea made a double substitution with both Schurrle and Mata taken off in favour of Willian and Oscar respectively.
Oscar was immediately involved in the action, and was correctly booked for going to ground as he attempted to win a penalty by going past Kelvin Davis, and fell to ground all too easily.
Clyne got the better of Azpilicueta to earn another corner for the hosts, and the Blues followed suit when Chambers headed out a Ramires cross, but again the set-piece came to nothing.
The opening goal came not long after though. Oscar’s cross took a heavy deflection off Chambers and hit the base of the post, but on the rebound TORRES was positioned perfectly to bundle the ball home from close range for 1-0 after 60 minutes.
Saints, who had been waiting to bring on Rickie Lambert, did so at the restart with their second substitution seeing the frontman replacing former Blue Jack Cork for the final half an hour or so.
With Chelsea still attacking the hosts, Lovren went into referee Martin Atkinson’s notebook for a foul on Hazard by the right touchline, but the resulting fortunately free-kick came to nothing.
Saints got back to grips with the game and forged an opening for themselves when Clyne lifted a cross into the middle of the area, and Lambert steamed in to meet it, but his header was straight at Cech who held on.
The hosts maintained a hold on possession, but from nowhere were undone again in the 71st minute as Chelsea doubled their lead. A move that started on the left side came back across to substitute WILLIAN who found space on the edge of the area to hit a crisp low finish into the bottom right that Davis had no chance of keeping out.
Saints were now withstanding the ramped up pressure from the visitors, and came through a tough spell before introducing their last substitute of the contest when James Ward-Prowse replaced Steven Davis for the final quarter of an hour in the game.
Chelsea had plenty in reserve though, and sealed their success with eight minutes remaining.
The influential Hazard played the ball into the path of substitute OSCAR who kept his composure and his shot low to reach the bottom corner for 3-0.
Chelsea withdrew Hazard soon after, with Michael Essien coming on in his place for the final few minutes of the contest, that a Nathaniel Clyne booking aside, had little of note, as the visitors celebrated a second win over Saints in the space of a month.
FULL-TIME: SOUTHAMPTON 0-3 CHELSEA
Southampton team: Kelvin Davis (c), Calum Chambers, Jose Fonte, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw (Nathaniel Clyne 46), Morgan Schneiderlin, Jack Cork (Rickie Lambert 60), Steven Davis (James Ward-Prowse 76), Adam Lallana, Gaston Ramirez, Jay Rodriguez
Unused substitutes: Paulo Gazzaniga, Maya Yoshida, Jos Hooiveld, Sam Gallagher
Chelsea team: Petr Cech, Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, John Terry (c), Ashley Cole, Ramires, Juan Mata (Oscar 53), John Obi Mikel, Andre Schurrle (Willian 53), Eden Hazard (Michael Essien 86), Fernando Torres
Unused substitutes: Mark Schwarzer, Demba Ba, Samuel Eto’o, Tomas Kalas
Goals: Torres, 60; Willian, 71; Oscar, 82
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Attendance: 31,271 (including 3,172 away)