The signs were there from the start of the second half as Southampton’s pressing intensity increased, both Jorginho and N’Golo Kante were overwhelmed in midfield and Chelsea struggled to beat their visitors’ press.
Yet Frank Lampard was too slow to react, persisting with a 4-2-3-1 system that brought great joy in the opening period but malfunctioned upon the restart.
For 43 minutes Chelsea were sublime, full of zest in attack and solid at the back. But the second half was chaos, all semblance of control lost against Ralph Hasenhuttl’s fearless side. And why would any team coming to Stamford Bridge have a reason to fear considering how flaky Chelsea are in defence?
It did not help that Chelsea had no recognised midfielder on the bench, Lampard leaving Mateo Kovacic out and naming both Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud as substitutes.
Kovacic took a full part in a rigorous warm down with the unused subs after the game, indicating that he was not carrying an injury. How the head coach could have done with the Croatian as an alternative outlet in a 4-3-3 when it became clear that a midfield two was no longer enough.
Instead Chelsea ended up with Reece James, fresh from making his senior England debut, as the temporary fix in a three-man midfield for the final three minutes. James has shown in the past that he is capable of playing in a holding role but why was the switch left so late?
There were other options. Mason Mount could have dropped deeper, Kai Havertz has previously played as a No8 and Hakim Ziyech could even have provided a stop gap in a reshuffled system. Instead the debutant Moroccan was introduced on the right wing in the 72nd minute as Chelsea continued with a 4-2-3-1.
Lampard said “there is certainly a game management element of it in a game” in his post-match press conference but that was as applicable to the coaching staff as his players. At the same time he did not feel their issues in the second period stemmed from the system.
“I don’t think it is conceding goals due to the shape of the team,” he said. “Of course we have changed the shape and I have to make those decisions with the personnel we have and getting the best out of them.
“That is something I have to think about, but it doesn’t mean I am dead set on sticking with that formation and there can be changes and tweaks to it as we go along. It’s something we need to continue working on. It is a change.
“In the second half I wouldn’t blame the shape of the team, more that we didn’t deal with the fact that Southampton were really keen to put us under pressure in their own half.
“We wanted to miss out their press, we didn’t do enough and that meant we turned the ball over in our own half, which irrespective of shape is always a problem.”
It is hard to argue against the last bit but Chelsea had lost control of midfield well before Jan Vestergaard’s equaliser and something should have been done from the sidelines to counteract it.