Game 14/66: Chelsea vs Southampton
Whilst things may not have been quite as positive as they were prior to the two previous games against Manchester City and Juventus, the overwhelming consensus around Stamford Bridge was that the start of the season had been a positive one.
The team sat in third place, just a point behind the top spot currently occupied by Liverpool, and as luck would have it the Reds were set to face the Sky Blues on the first weekend of Premier League action of October. That, however, was to come the day after Chelsea played Southampton at home, which was by no means a guaranteed three points.
With torrential rain pouring down throughout almost the entire game, it wasn’t the most picturesque setting imaginable, but it did seem to correlate fairly aptly with the copious action in this match. Trevoh Chalobah opened the scoring just 9 minutes in, heading home at the far post following a Ben Chilwell corner that was flicked on by Ruben Loftus-Cheek, in an all-English link-up.
The game proceeded to ebb and flow this way and that, with chances for both sides requiring saves from the respective shot stoppers. It seemed the Blues had gone two ahead when, having recycled the play from a previous attack, Hudson-Odoi floated a ball in towards Timo Werner who planted his header past McCarthy, before wheeling off in celebration.
In misfortune which seems to only happen to Werner though, the referee, via VAR, decided that the goal had to be ruled out for a foul (a lot) earlier in the build-up, much the frustration of the home support, as well as Thomas Tuchel who flailed his arms in anger at the fourth official.
Still, Chelsea did lead at the break, and deservedly so, though they would’ve liked to have had a more solid advantage heading into the second half. The need for such an advantage was exemplified for all to see too, when the Saints were awarded a penalty after Chilwell clumsily took out Livramento, and the resulting spot kick was tucked away by Ward-Prowse.
If Chelsea wanted to take advantage and potentially leap to the summit of the table, they weren’t doing a particularly good job of it at the moment. Following yet more opportunities for Chelsea, the clock continued to tick up and up, making the threat of a draw appear even more likely, but that all changed when the Southampton goalscorer, Ward-Prowse, was sent off for a cynical, and in all honesty unnecessary, challenge on Jorginho.
That came with a little over 10 minutes remaining, and the pressure which the Blues then put their opponents under finally told when they found a winner late in the game. Barkley switched the play well to Azpiliceuta, whose first time cross fell straight into the path of Timo Werner, and the German looked more relieved than anything else as he slid in front of the Matthew Harding Stand to celebrate a potentially huge goal.
There was still time for another, as after an almost unbelievable passage of play in which both Lukaku and Azpilicueta hit the woodwork from very close range, Ben Chilwell lashed a half-volley at McCarthy, who only pushed the ball out after it had crossed the goal line, putting the seal on a madcap afternoon at the Bridge, as well as putting the pressure on the two teams above them in their crunch match the day after.
That pressure led to a back and forth game, which ended in a 2-2 draw, meaning that going into the second international break of the campaign, it was Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea atop the Premier League table. The question was, how long could they stay there?
Game 14/66: Chelsea 3-1 Southampton
Game 15/66: Brentford vs Chelsea
With another demolition of Andorra having come and gone for Gareth Southgate’s England, as well as a draw with Hungary, it was time once again for club football to return, and for Chelsea it was a fixture 74 years in the making.
Admittedly, there had been meetings of Chelsea and Brentford in that time, with a few FA Cup fixtures throwing up a rarely-seen West London derby, but a league fixture between the two sides hadn’t happened since Clement Atlee was Prime Minister.
The Bees had enjoyed a better than expected return to the top flight, only losing one game up until this point, and picking up victories against Arsenal and West Ham, as well as notching up a very respectable point against Liverpool.
The message being, effectively, this was not going to be an easy game, and it panned out as such too. Brentford caused an inexperienced Chelsea defence issues from the outset, with Malang Sarr in particular looking vulnerable throughout.
The first half wasn’t the most exciting affair: Bryan Mbeumo came close when his effort struck the post, but there were few other chances, until the final minute of the half, when Ben Chilwell found himself with a loose ball falling right in front of him.
The left wing-back got a sublime connection on the strike, lashing a half volley eerily similar to his one against Southampton, right into the top corner to give the Blues the lead. It was a narrow advantage, and one which would be put under severe threat for almost the entirety of the second half.
Really, this game could be summarised with just two simple words: Edouard Mendy. He had impressed ever since his relatively surprising signing just over a year before, but this was the game when he received far more praise than ever before.
From the 73rd minute onwards, the Chelsea goal was peppered incessantly and on each and every occasion Mendy stood firm. First it was Ivan Toney who saw his effort saved, then Ghoddos, who was practically one-on-one with the ‘keeper, had his powerful shot smothered by the Senegal international, and even Pontus Jansson, who was playing as a makeshift striker by this point, was left bemused as Mendy’s face denied him too.
The pinnacle of Mendy’s heroics came in injury time though, when Norgaard took a touch with his chest, and launched himself at the ball with an overhead kick that looked certain to nestle in the back of the net. Step forward Edouard Mendy: with his fingertips he sent the ball over the crossbar, to Thomas Frank’s utter astonishment.
So world class was the stop that it would go on to be nominated for Save of the Season, and it was one of the most obvious Man of the Match choices of all time. Finally, after one of the most one-sided final 20 minutes of the season, Anthony Taylor blew for full time, with each and every member of the Chelsea squad going over to praise, and indeed thank, Mendy himself.
In the process, the players wandered over to the travelling away support, who, ironically enough, were joining in with a song by a band from the city where one of their main title rivals were located, in the form of ‘Hey Jude’.
On that Saturday evening though, as the crowds dispersed into the dark of West London, worries about rivals weren’t even present. This Chelsea team felt like a unit, like a machine working in perfect conjunction.
They felt, quite simply, unbeatable.
Game 15/66: Brentford 0-1 Chelsea
Game 16/66: Chelsea vs Malmo
If the previous game required defensive concentration to the maximum, the next fixture was one in which the back line could probably have set up a table and chairs and watched the forwards go about their business.
Malmo were the visitors to Stamford Bridge, on the third Champions League matchday of the season, and unlike previous fixtures against Juventus and Zenit St Petersburg, there were no struggles in breaking the opposition down. In fact, the Swedish side didn’t even register a shot on target in this one, reflecting the ease with which the Blues cruised to victory.
Chances were aplenty from the off, with Chilwell and Werner unable to convert two early opportunities, but their worries over not putting their side ahead were quickly extinguished when the opening goal arrived. It came, bizarrely enough, from a link-up between two central defenders, as Thiago Silva swung a ball into the middle, where Andreas Christensen of all people was waiting to fire home.
Incredibly, despite having been at the club since 2013, the Dane had never scored a goal in competitive action for the Blues, though you wouldn’t have known it based on the skill with which he finished. Lukaku, as he had for most of the season, looked tenacious and determined on the ball, and he used his strength to muscle past Pena, before being taken out by Nielsen, winning a penalty for Chelsea.
Unfortunately for the Belgian, he was injured in the process, and just a couple of minutes after Jorginho had scored the spot kick, the striker was forced to leave the pitch, and in truth his form never really recovered after that. While hypotheticals are a wonderful concept, the thoughts of what may have been with Lukaku had he remained fit for longer are just that: hypotheticals.
Whether it was the injury, the lack of game time, or something else that caused the drop in form would be impossible to say – what’s clear is that the difference in how he played prior to this game and after his return was stark for all to see.
Also in the first half came an injury to Timo Werner, meaning before the break two of Chelsea’s starting front three had to be replaced. Not to worry though, for the options off the bench were hardly second-rate. It was Hudson-Odoi, who had replaced Werner, that went on a marauding run down the left wing, before playing in Havertz, who had replaced Lukaku, and the ‘best on earth’, as his song goes, delicately chipped over Diawara to find Chelsea’s third of the night.
Much like a few weeks before against Southampton, the driving rain provided quite the metaphor for the Blues’ torrential pressure going forwards, which was again rewarded when Rudiger was fouled in the box, giving Jorginho another opportunity from 12 yards, which he duly accepted.
Being four to the good was apparently satisfactory enough for the home side though, which, given the two injuries to key players in the first half, made quite a lot of sense. Plus, regardless of the opponent, such a big scoreline is never to be sniffed at, and the home fans walked (or rather ran, more likely, given the weather), away from the ground pleased with what they’d seen.
Game 16/66: Chelsea 4-0 Malmo
Game 17/66: Chelsea vs Norwich City
By describing the next match as a win by a huge scoreline at home against a lesser opponent, it may sound as though Malmo are once more the team in question. In reality, it was the Premier League’s classic yo-yo club in Norwich City who were the unfortunate recipients of Chelsea’s biggest win of the 2021/22 season.
It came on a bright Saturday lunchtime, and was helped considerably by one of the poorest performances by an away side ever at Stamford Bridge. The floodgates opened early on, much like in the Malmo game, as Mason Mount arrowed a shot into the bottom corner with vicious power past Tim Krul.
The Dutch ‘keeper had to pick the ball out of his net again just 10 minutes later, when Kovacic played what was fast becoming a signature pass of his, splitting the opposition defence in two, to give the pacy Callum Hudson-Odoi the chance to get his first goal of the campaign, and the youngster didn’t mess about, slotting the ball home.
Arguably the best goal of the day was the third, when, after moving the ball across the pitch to Mount, he played in Reece James with a sublime slide rule pass and the wing-back produced a delightful chip, all but sealing the three points with the third goal before the half time whistle had even gone.
Unlike in the Champions League game during the week, Chelsea didn’t stop pushing in this one, no matter the size of their lead, and they grabbed another via Ben Chilwell firing across Krul from the edge of the penalty area.
A fifth came shortly afterwards, and after four English goalscorers it was only right that the trend continued, although it was a slightly different format, with it coming in the form of an own goal off of Max Aarons, in his attempt to block a cross from Hudson-Odoi.
To their credit, the visiting supporters never let up, progressing into more and more self-deprecating chants as the game wore on, including ‘We’ve got the ball,’ followed usually fairly quickly afterwards by ‘We’ve lost the ball.’ Their team continued their on-field collapse though, as Ben Gibson got his second bookable offence within the space of ten minutes, leaving the Canaries down to 10 men for the final 25 minutes.
The Blues probably could have reached double digits, had they been more merciless, but in the end they only (and that is said with a heavy dose of sarcasm) scored seven. A sixth could’ve come on three different occasions before the eventual goal – first Loftus-Cheek had a go, then Ross Barkley, and finally Hakim Ziyech, but the trio all had their efforts saved admirably by Krul.
Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t prevent his own defender from deciding to block a shot from Rudiger with his hand, which meant a penalty for Chelsea. Krul did actually keep out the spot kick, only to be told in disbelief that it had to be retaken as he was off his line, and Mount didn’t mess the second time.
There was still time for one final chance, and it was taken by Mount for his hat trick. Loftus-Cheek charged up the wing, leaving McLean and Normann in his wake, before unselfishly cutting it back to Mount who had the simplest of tasks to practically pass the ball into an empty net.
The newspaper headlines had written themselves: Chelsea in seventh heaven as they remain top of the table. As far as things go in West London, everything was looking up.
Game 17/66: Chelsea 7-0 Norwich City
Game 18/66: Chelsea vs Southampton
It was a third home game in the space of a week, and also a third different competition, with the Blues up against Southampton in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup. Just as in the third round, they had played their opponents very recently in the league, defeating them, though only thanks to a late two goals from Werner and Chilwell.
As is often the case with early rounds in this competition, it was a second-string side for the most part, and that showed in the sluggishness of the play much of the time. Saul had the first big opportunity, as his header was saved by a flying Fraser Forster, but there were a distinct lack of any other genuinely clear-cut chances in the first half.
In fact, it took until the 44th minute for any other moments of interest, as the Blues won a corner that was delivered by Hakim Ziyech. With Lukaku still out, the striker position was filled by Kai Havertz, and the German leapt highest in the box to nod Chelsea in front at the break. Frustratingly though, after the hosts had gone ahead with a couple of minutes to go before half time, the visitors were back in the game a couple of minutes after the interval.
Kyle Walker-Peters drove fearlessly at the Chelsea defence, before attempting to cut the ball back in the direction of Che Adams. It did reach the striker, who just had to tap in from less than a yard out, but it was due to an error from Kepa in net, who let the ball go through his legs into the direction of the Scottish forward.
It was almost the perfect response when Hudson-Odoi found Havertz in the middle, who cut round Lyanco, but he shot straight at Forster, and a pretty tepid second half ensued. If anything, it was Southampton who had the best chance to win the game, as Shane Long, after wriggling away from Malang Sarr, got the ball in towards Smallbone, who was charging into the box, but he had almost too much pace and couldn’t truly get control of his header that fell into the grateful grasp of Arrizabalaga.
The Spaniard certainly made up for his mistake in the goal conceded earlier too, as he produced a stunning reaction save to tip Lyanco’s header over, which meant the game went to penalties. Both scored their first, but then had their second saved, and after three penalties each the teams were still level.
Next up was Will Smallbone though, and he blew his chance, firing into the stand behind the goal, with Chilwell scoring next to solidify Chelsea’s lead in the shootout. Former Blue Oriol Romeu held his nerve in a must-score situation, but, just as in the third round, Reece James stepped up and coolly slotted into the bottom right corner, sending Thomas Tuchel and Co. into the Carabao Cup quarter finals.
Game 18/66: Chelsea 1-1 Southampton
Chelsea win 4-3 on penalties
Game 19/66: Newcastle vs Chelsea
To finish off the month, it was the longest domestic away trip of the season for the Blues, as they made their way up to the North East, ready to face Newcastle United. The Magpies had recently been taken over by a Saudi-backed consortium (a word which would become all too familiar later on for Chelsea fans), but were still in the process of finding a new manager, so it was caretaker boss Graeme Jones in charge.
If ever there was a game of sheer dominance shown by Chelsea this season, you would struggle to find a more suitable option than this one. Hakim Ziyech had three chances in the first half, and he did put one of them in the back of the net only to be flagged offside, but apart from that the first half didn’t have a multitude of opportunities, even for all the Blues’ possession.
In fact, by the end of this one they’d have enjoyed 80% of the ball, restricting their opponents to just a single shot on target after yet another strong defensive performance. That solidity at the back came both from the centre backs, as well as the wing-backs, one of which, Reece James, had an afternoon to remember on Tyneside.
The Englishman linked up with his compatriot, Callum Hudson-Odoi, but in truth all the credit ought to go to James, as, after a touch to set himself, he rifled a powerful shot into the top left corner, from the other side of the goal, with an absolute corker of a finish.
It was just the thing needed for Chelsea to really start enjoying themselves in this one, as a little over 10 minutes later Loftus-Cheek’s blocked effort fell to James once more, and he somehow generated even more power than previously, though admittedly in the direction of an empty net as Darlow had dived too early, to double Chelsea’s lead.
Darlow’s day got even worse just a couple of minutes after, as he took out Havertz in the penalty area, and despite some clamours from the away support to let Reece James go for the hat trick from the spot, Jorginho stepped up as usual and tucked it away to firmly secure the three points.
Speaking of that travelling support, it was a first appearance in stadiums for a certain new chant, proclaiming the acquisition of such a talented German manager: ‘We’ve got super Tommy Tuchel,’ they cried from the gods of St James’ Park, and their day got even better when news filtered through from the other 3pm fixtures as well.
As it turned out, their two main title rivals had dropped points, with Manchester City falling to a shock 2-0 home defeat against Crystal Palace, while Liverpool had only managed a draw against Brighton at Anfield.
All that meant Chelsea went three points clear at the top of the Premier League table, and a classic song in the form of ‘We shall not be moved’ was belted down from the top of the Leazes Stand, as the Blues revelled in their newfound superiority atop England’s top flight.
It had been a hectic few weeks, with plenty of matches to roll through, and thus far the challenge had been stood up to. The only problem was, that challenge had only just begun.
Game 19/66: Newcastle 0-3 Chelsea
Games Played: 6
Games Won: 6
Games Drawn: 0
Games Lost: 0
Month in three words: Just Keep Winning.
Written and Edited by Noah Robson (@noahrobson_)
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