Chelsea's swagger is gone
(Diego Costa 11)
(Dusan Tadic 19-pen)
There was to be no magic bullet for Chelsea's Champions League hangover.
All manager Jose Mourinho got was a reconfirmation that his side have lost their early-season swagger.
A 1-1 draw with Southampton at Stamford Bridge was hardly the sort of response he was looking for from his charges.
The Blues needed a spark to rejuvenate their campaign following their meek surrender to Paris Saint-Germain in midweek.
They needed the distraction of three Premiership points to ease the pain of Champions League elimination.
But Southampton were in no mood to play the role of polite visitors.
Southampton, who had the better of the first-half chances, threatened to deepen Chelsea's misery and they nearly did.
Costa's opening goal didn't settle the hosts as expected. Instead, it riled up the enterprising Saints, who played a counter-attacking game close to perfection in the first half.
No one among the 41,624 spectators would have begrudged them a lead at the break had they taken one. Such was the Saints' dominance.
Their pace and energy in the final third of the field was the main difference, with Dusan Tadic a constant threat and Sadio Mane drawing fouls throughout the match.
Indeed, it was Mane who earned the penalty from which Tadic converted in the 19th minute.
Holding midfielder Nemanja Matic, after picking up an 18th-minute yellow card, was stretched to the limit until he was replaced by the quicker Ramires. This was a far cry from the consistent and assured performances that had pundits picking him as their player of the season earlier on.
Cesc Fabregas' appalling form continued, fuelling suggestions that he is not one to count on to last the full distance.
Chelsea's backline, which had came under severe criticism recently, didn't show much improvement. Confidence was at a premium.
Tadic, Mane and Toby Alderweireld all came close to giving Ronald Koeman's side the lead before half-time.
But Chelsea re-emerged from the players' tunnel a different side.
The lethargy that plagued their first period and the entire match against PSG in midweek dissipated, replaced by vigour and a better appetite.
Ramires seemed to serve as the catalyst, John Terry started to exert his influence at the back, and Eden Hazard came alive.
They battered Southampton the way they were pounded in the first period, but the cutting edge was nowhere to be found.
Mourinho could only shrug his shoulders at the way his team missed chance after chance, partly bemused by his team's poor finishing but also by Fraser Forster's outstanding performance in the Southampton goal.
The second-half display at least gives him reason for optimism. But everything before that is cause for concern.
The consolation is Manchester City's abject form at such a crucial stage.
The Citizen's shock loss to Burnley on Saturday, coupled with last night's result, allowed Chelsea, who have a game in hand, to extend their lead to six points.
But Mourinho cannot allow his team's restlessness to fester.
They have scored only four goals in their last four Premiership home matches, and won just one of them.
A nerve-racking finish to the season is the last thing they need.
We played really good and we showed that when we play like a good team nobody can beat us.
— Southampton’s Dusan Tadic
It’s massive and keeps the confidence high. It’s a great point and will set us up nicely for the remaining games.
— Southampton’s Fraser Forster