Southampton 2-1 Chelsea: 6 Things We Learned
The Blues have been leapfrogged by Spurs into third place, although they still have a game in hand, while Arsenal also gained on them, putting qualification for the Champions League in jeopardy.
Ricky Lambert sealed the 2-1 victory with a fine free kick to provide Rafael Benitez with a terrible start to their manic run of fixtures spread over three competitions in the next two weeks.
Mauricio Pochettino will feel that this game will spur on his side and that he can almost begin preparations for next season in the Premier League.
Here are six things we learned.
The Next Chelsea Manager Must Tweak the Formation to Get the Best out of Ramires
Ramires is one of Chelsea's most valuable players due to his incredible athleticism and energy to overwhelm the opposition with his penetrating runs from deep.
The Brazilian has not found the 4-2-3-1 formation ideal to his qualities, however, as when he plays in the "two," Ramires is restricted too much—without the license to roam forward at will and also lacking the distribution skills to be instrumental from so deep.
If Ramires is pushed out to the wing, the former Benfica star can often struggle to beat his opponent when receiving the ball in advanced areas, often lacking the option to expose the space in behind the opposition.
Ramires showed against Manchester United just what an excellent asset he can be for the Blues, and it should be one of the main priorities for the new boss next season to get the best out of the box-to-box midfielder.
Jack Cork Could Have Played a Role at Chelsea If He Was Given the Chance
Jack Cork spent 13 years with Chelsea and featured with the England youth setup from the under-16 level right up to the under-21 setup.
Cork is a versatile player who has played in numerous positions, but he often thrives at right-back or centre-midfield, positions that Chelsea could certainly do with some cover.
Cork would never be a starter in all likelihood at the Blues, but with players like Ryan Bertrand proving to be useful with Chelsea competing on three fronts, it is undeniable that the Blues should have provided Cork with an opportunity in the first team.
Cork is neat and tidy and an adequate technician to be an asset to the Blues, and it is great to see the Chelsea youth product fulfilling his potential with Saints, if only Chelsea had been fairer with Cork during his time at Stamford Bridge.
Rafael Benitez Had No Choice but to Rotate the Squad for the Saints Game
Rafael Benitez will be criticised after the Blues dropped points, but we knew that, didn't we?
Benitez made the decision to rest several starters against the Saints with the FA Cup replay against Manchester United on Monday at the forefront of his mind.
Eden Hazard, Ashley Cole, David Luiz, Demba Ba and Ramires started on the bench for the Blues, and yes, Chelsea lost the game, but rotation is an unavoidable consequence of competing for two cups and needing to maintain a push for a top-four place in the Premier League.
Any other manager would have done the same thing, as with just one day of rest before the big replay with United, it would be thoughtless to burn out the starters on Saturday, knowing that Monday's game is more important.
The damage done in the Premier League is retrievable, but defeat or even a slow start in the game on Monday to United, who stung Chelsea with two early goals in the league meeting this year, might be irreparable.
Chelsea could have played better, but the point is that the lost points is not down to rotation.
Ricky Lambert Is Undoubtedly Premier League Quality
Ricky Lambert proved once and for all that he belongs in the Premier League.
The Saints striker scored the decisive goal to provide the points for Mauricio Pochettino's men, sinking a stunning free kick that Petr Cech had no chance of saving.
His presence in and around the penalty area is the perfect building block for a newly promoted side to base their strategy around.
With a clever first touch and selfless qualities, Lambert's versatility can fit into a number of Pochettino's plans moving forward.
The quality of his ball striking was on show again at St. Mary's. On another day, he might have scored a hat-trick against the Blues, striking powerfully through the back of the ball and always looking to hit the target, a very undervalued skill at the highest level of European football.
Pochettino Must Work on His Side's Organisation at Set Pieces Moving Forward
Pochettino will be delighted by some of the progressive, stylish football that the Saints displayed against a top side like Chelsea on Saturday, but there are fundamentals that he needs to correct in order to progress Southampton.
The marking and setup at set pieces was poor and was a key part in conceding Chelsea's only goal of the game, leaving John Terry, perhaps the Blues' most potent aerial threat, completely unmarked to head home from eight yards out.
Saints appeared to switch between a zonal scheme and man-to-man, and this is quite understandable when Pochettino is still beginning to work out what characteristics his side possesses in order to approach this part of defending.
It is an area that will undoubtedly be strengthened simply through additions in the transfer market, but Pochettino should aim to correct these simple errors immediately on the training ground in order to build a foundation for the Saints to avoid even entering a relegation battle next season.
Oscar Is Most Effective Through the Middle
Oscar was able to play in his most natural position against Southampton, and it was refreshing to see, even if the results were not quite up to what he is capable of.
The Brazilian was able to carry the ball in transition and provides Chelsea with a great ability to switch between containment and controlling the tempo of the game.
When Chelsea were chasing the game, having trailed the Saints twice, the former Internacional star was adept at using the ball intelligently and often attempting to burst past the opposition's centre-backs in a similar way to which Juan Mata has done so successfully.
Oscar could not quite find the right chemistry with his teammates, but the intent was there, and it was also promising to see him spring off his pass by creating an option for his teammates.
It is exciting to imagine how great this player can become in this pivotal role.
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