Chelsea needed two second half goals to defeat Southampton and book an FA Cup final encounter with Manchester United. Olivier Giroud and Àlvaro Morata fired home the goals to give Antonio Conte’s side a comfortable 2-0 victory in the end.
Last season’s beaten finalists started the match on the front foot and Willian saw his effort cannon back off the crossbar. It appeared as though it would be a long match for Mark Hughes and his players but the Saints kept Chelsea at bay for large parts of the first half.
However, their resolve was quickly broken in the second half. Less than a minute after kick off, Giroud then danced his way past a number of players in the penalty area to poke the ball home.
Southampton had a goal harshly chalked off for a foul on Willy Caballero before Morata came off of the bench to settle the match in the 82nd minute. He guided a header past Alex McCarthy to take his tally to the season for 15.
Conte and his side now meet former manager José Mourinho in the final in a game you don’t want to miss. Here are five things we learned from Chelsea 2-0 Southampton
Giroud was right to move to Chelsea
The France International made the move to Stamford Bridge from the Emirates in January to make way for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. At the time it appeared to be a strange decision with first-team minutes not guaranteed.
Initially, it appeared as though Conte would use the 31-year-old as back up to club record signing Morata, but over recent weeks it’s become apparent that the Italian tactician might actually prefer the former Arsenal man.
He got the nod over Morata today just four days after playing 90 minutes in Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Burnley. His inclusion in the starting XI was justified and he was linking up with Eden Hazard and Willian on a regular basis.
There’s also an understanding there with Cesc Fabregas, with the pair linking up to carve out the best chance of the first-half when the Frenchman acrobatically fired wide after a chipped ball over the top by the Spanish playmaker.
He slalomed past the Southampton defence and goalkeeper to fire the Blues into the lead. The January arrival showed great feet for a big man to score his third goal against Southampton in just over a week.
Emerson impressed at wing-back
Conte’s decision to start with Emerson in place of the suspended Marcos Alonso was questioned during the pre-match build-up but it made sense as soon as play got underway.
In the past, the former Juventus boss has opted to use César Azpilicueta as a wing-back or he’s deployed Davide Zappacosta in that role. Both have done an admirable job there but both prefer to cut inside and can sometimes occupy Hazard’s space.
The ex-Roma man, however, is naturally left-footed and looks to go on the outside whenever possible. Not only does this add balance and complement what Victor Moses done on the right hand side, it also stretches the opposition and creates pockets of space for the Belgian. It played a part in the Chelsea No.10 having a lot of joy in central areas.
He finished the match with a 91 per cent success rate and played three key passes. Though Alonso is a goal threat on a regular basis, Emerson may rival him for a start if he continues to perform to such a high level. Chelsea are in a really fortunate position.
Hughes went for brawn over brains
The Southampton manager went for power over guile today. He benched Dušan Tadić and James Ward-Prowse and went with Mario Lemina and Charlie Austin. The change in personnel resulted in the Saints having to tweak their system from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2.
It was supposed to help them get a foothold in the middle third and make it difficult for Chelsea to play their way through. It did the latter but Hughes’ men ceded possession with ease throughout and just invited pressure. T
hey completed just two passes in the final third in the opening 35 minutes. Punted balls forward to Long and Austin were easily dealt with and Conte’s side could build attacks in the space between the Southampton midfield and their attack.
There was logic to Hughes’ thinking but it was just executed poorly and resulted in his side being put under a lot more pressure. He’ll no doubt rue the decision, especially after seeing the impact Tadić’s second half arrival had on the team. They went from being completely blunt to troubling last season’s Premier League champions.
Azpilicueta to Morata is a match made in heaven
Morata came off the bench to notch his 15th goal of the season possibly his first touch of the game. It was a stereotypical goal for the Spaniard with Azpilicueta crossing the ball in from just inside the right touchline and arrowing the ball straight onto his compatriot’s head.
It’s been a fruitful combination for Chelsea this season, with the wing-back-cum-centre-back creating six of Morata’s 11 Premier League goals this term. In fact, the former Marseille full-back hasn’t created a goal for another player this season.
It’s unnerving how deadly they are as a duo and it’s difficult to stop. It always results in the same question being asked; how prolific would Morata be if Azpilicueta was deployed as a right wing-back on a regular basis instead of a centre-back? Could it be something Conte looks at it in more detail at some stage?
Thibaut Courtois’ future
Caballero was expected to start the match. He’s Chelsea’s cup goalkeeper. What was a surprise was the fact Courtois wasn’t even on the bench, despite being fully fit.
The club confirmed he wasn’t injured so why wasn’t he on the bench for a cup semi-final? If the former Manchester City shot-stopper wasn’t able to see out the match then it would have put the Blues in a tricky predicament, so why was such a risk taken?
The Belgian No.1 has been linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge all season, with Real Madrid reportedly keen on the 25-year-old, and his absence for Chelsea’s biggest game of the season to date will lead to speculation as to whether he’ll be with the FA Cup finalists next season.