Chelsea now know the recipe for success away from the Champions' League back in
the bread and butter of the Premiership - start with 11 overseas players.
Today was the first time an English league side have fielded a starting
line-up without a single British player.
Graeme Le Saux was injured; Chris Sutton had flu, and Dennis Wise - whose wife
was due to give birth - was also absent at Southampton.
With Jody Morris starting on the bench alongside three other promising English
youngsters - Jon Harley finally make it on with 14 minutes left and Morris
making a brief cameo appearance - it was a depressing indictment on the domestic
Yet the Blues fans were not complaining too much after the foreign legion
managed to do what no other Chelsea line-up has done for three months - win away
from home in the Premiership.
What is more, for all the transparent inadequacies of their opponents
Southampton, Chelsea did it by showing the supposedly British virtues of hard
work, guts and determination as Tore Andre Flo struck twice in the first half to
arrest his team's recent Premiership slide.
For the record, Chelsea's starting line-up featured a Dutchman in goal,
Spanish and Nigerian full-backs, a Brazilian and Frenchman in central defence, a
midfield from Italy, Uruguay, France and Romania, with a Norwegian up front
supported by an Italian winger.
Whatever their nationalities - and boss Gianluca Vialli will merely insist
that he puts out the strongest possible side and that his hand was forced by
injury and illness - they certainly outplayed Southampton.
The home side lacked the passionate fighting qualities which made The Dell
something of a fortress last season until the final 10 minutes after Kevin
Davies had pulled a goal back - his first since returning to the south coast
earlier this season.
But by then it was too late for a real comeback to be launched, and Chelsea
came through despite having been without not only Sutton, Wise and Le Saux but
also Gianfranco Zola with flu and Marcel Desailly through injury.
Flo was mainly up front on his own with Gustavo Poyet - who sustained a
serious knee injury in this game exactly a year ago - pushing forward to support
him from midfield.
Defender Emerson Thome was also making his debut, yet the biggest roar from
the home crowd was reserved for the return of Matt Le Tissier to the starting
line-up for the first time in two months after he returned to leave the club if
he was not picked before Christmas.
After Poyet had escaped appeals for handball and Frank Leboeuf - sent off for
the second time this season against Leeds last weekend - had become the first
player to be booked in a chaotic opening few minutes, Le Tissier almost made an
Chelsea goalkeeper Ed De Goey needlessly conceded a free-kick by carrying the
ball outside his area while attempting to punt it clear, and Le Tissier cannoned
his dead-ball effort against the underside of the bar before it rebounded to
However, just five minutes later, Chelsea were ahead when Flo capped a
wonderful flowing move of one-touch football which ripped the appalling marking
of the Saints defenders to shreds.
Gabriele Ambrosetti, Dan Petrescu and Didier Deschamps were involved early on
before Poyet took up possession and he then played in Flo to steer an angled
shot past goalkeeper Paul Jones.
The goal destroyed any momentum which the home side had been building up, and
Chelsea soon came close to going further ahead as Celestine Babayaro thundered a
volley against the bar and Petrescu headed just wide.
Poyet was doing especially well as the fulcrum of the side in his more
advanced midfield role, while Deschamps was imposing himself alongside him and
Southampton's passing simply did not come up to scratch.
Chelsea duly went 2-0 ahead two minutes before the break when Deschamps'
through-ball put Flo clean through, with the home side's frantic appeals for
offside falling on deaf ears.
The Norwegian international kept his composure and, as Jones dived at his
feet, he simply flicked the ball over the goalkeeper's body and into the net.
Southampton briefly rallied after the break following a double substitution,
with De Goey pushing a shot from Le Tissier around the post while Trond Soltvedt
was unable to capitalise from close range when Francis Benali headed dangerously
towards the goalline.
However, Flo came even closer when he struck the upright with a drive from
Ambrosetti's pass before Davies' strike with 10 minutes left - a poacher's
header after a Le Tissier free-kick was not properly cleared - sparked a late
It was not enough to secure a draw, though, and Chelsea came through to secure
a rare three points.
Southampton: Jones, Dodd, Lundekvam, Richards, Benali,
Le Tissier, Oakley (Tessem 74), Soltvedt,
Kachloul (Boa Morte 52), Pahars, Beattie (Davies 52).
Subs Not Used: Hughes, Moss.
Booked: Oakley, Le Tissier.
Goals: Davies 80.
Chelsea: De Goey, Petrescu (Morris 87), Thome, Leboeuf,
Babayaro, Ferrer, Deschamps, Poyet, Di Matteo,
Ambrosetti (Harley 74), Flo.
Subs Not Used: Nicholls, Cudicini, Terry.
Booked: Leboeuf, Ferrer, Deschamps, Babayaro.
Goals: Flo 18, 43.
Ref: P Alcock (Halstead).