Chelsea suddenly found their feet again in the second half of an eventful visit to St Mary’s on Saturday, clawing their way back from being 2-0 down to a desperate-for-points Southampton side to secure an improbably 3-2 win.
In a thrilling and unexpected nine-minute blitz following the arrival of Olivier Giroud in place of the confidence-lacking Alvaro Morata, Chelsea overturned a miserable first-half performance to record one of the best comebacks in recent club history.
It sets the scene nicely for the weekend’s FA Cup semi-final clash at Wembley, also against the Saints, in which Giroud is expected to play a bigger part.
But it also raises a serious question mark over Morata’s long-term future at Chelsea. After an initial run of good scoring form, he has really gone off the boil and seems to spend more time complaining to referees or sitting on the ground in a cloud of indignation than he does chasing the ball, creating openings or putting the ball in the net.
“We have to try to finish the season in the best possible way, and in every game we have to show great enthusiasm, great patience, great character, great spirit and great desire to try to fight for this team and for our fans,” said Tony Conte after the match, in what amounts to his pep talk ahead of a busy week which sees the Blues travel up to Turf Moor on Thursday night for a tricky fixture against in-form Burnley before confronting Southampton again on Sunday.
“In the first half we didn’t do this, and I am the first person to take responsibility for this because I am the coach of this team. In the second half we showed a great reaction, and I hope from now until the end to see this fire in the eyes of my players in every game,” added Conte. “The most important thing for us is that in the second half I saw the right reaction from my players.”
Two goals from Giroud and a fine strike from Eden Hazard turned the Southampton v Chelsea game inside out. The last time the Blues achieved such a comeback was in December, and it augers well in the dying embers of a season which Manchester City have dominated, formally taking the Premier League title from Chelsea on Sunday after Manchester United were unexpectedly beaten at home 1-0 by wooden spoon winners West Brom.