Conte’s tinkering pays off
If Antonio Conte’s decision to bench Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for the FA Cup semi-final appeared wise on Saturday, then it looked like a complete masterstroke within minutes last night.
Against Tottenham, they came on after an hour to swing the game in Chelsea’s favour. Here, they took just five minutes to combine with Cesc Fabregas - another substitute at Wembley - for the opener.
Three times in the first half the ball was shifted first from Fabregas to Costa, and then on to Hazard as the trio led the charge against the Southampton rearguard.
There is a different dynamic to Chelsea when Fabregas plays instead of the bustling Willian or Pedro, but his passing and vision was the source of Hazard and Costa’s joy.
It was the same pattern for the third goal. Hazard found Fabregas, who picked out Costa to head home.
Romeu wins the midfield battle
It was easy to scoff when Claude Puel said ahead of this match that Oriol Romeu was “not far off” the level of N’Golo Kante, but the Spaniard has been one of the most quietly consistent players of the season.
He was at the heart of a commanding first-half performance from Southampton, in which they did not deserve to be losing at the break. A snappy tackle on Costa set the tone, and Romeu was pulling the strings in midfield long before he notched his goal.
Romeu made just a handful of Premier League appearances before loan spells at Valencia and Stuttgart, but here he showed plenty of examples of the Barcelona-nurtured talent that first piqued Chelsea’s interest.
Although a few defensive slip-ups perhaps explained why he has so far failed to make the grade at the highest level, Southampton should expect more than a few enquiries for the 25-year-old this summer.
Boufal continues to frustrate
There are few players with as much obvious natural talent as Sofiane Boufal. With the deftest of touches and fastest of feet, he has the rare ability to glide past defenders with a simple shimmy of the hips.
It is a source of endless frustration, therefore, that he seems utterly incapable of playing in anything more than short bursts.
Too often he takes too many touches, and Southampton fans will attest that too often he goes missing after a brief moment of magic.
He has been compared to Hazard in the past - both used to ply their trade at Lille - but he remains a long way from being as decisive as Hazard at the big moments. Despite lighting up spells of the first half, it was no surprise to see him hooked in the second. Two goals this season is a meagre return for a player who joined as the club’s record signing.
What Chelsea need to work on
As remarkable as it sounds considering their position in the table, this was the 11th consecutive game in which Chelsea have failed to keep a clean sheet.
By that measure, this is the worst defensive run the club have experienced in more than 20 years, although being seven points clear at the top of the Premier League does provide an obvious caveat to that statistic.
Still, it will continue to be a cause of concern for a manager as meticulous as Conte, while it will also provide a source of hope for Tottenham.
It’s hard to have too many complaints when you’re running away with the title, but a lack of rugged stability will be one of them.