Frank Lampard did not enjoy the cold turkey. After the euphoric high of the victory at Tottenham, another crushing home defeat was hard to swallow.
Southampton came with a plan, followed it to perfection and beat Chelsea for the first time in 10 attempts thanks to goals by Michael Obafemi and Nathan Redmond.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team have eased a little further clear of relegation peril. For Lampard’s young team, however, it marks a third defeat in four Premier League home games — by West Ham, Bournemouth and Southampton without a goal in reply.
‘You can’t have near-on 70 per cent of possession and control and not do more,’ fumed Lampard. ‘Not hit better crosses, not hit better final passes, not get more clear chances at goal. We have to work. Players have to go one-v-one. If you’re an offensive player, play around the corner, join, mix up your game and break defensive lines because teams aren’t stupid. They are well organised. People are coming here and respect us as Chelsea because they are setting up in that way but we are not playing like the Chelsea that can break that down.’
Hasenhuttl plotted their downfall without top scorer Danny Ings for much of the match. He started on the bench to keep fresh for tomorrow’s home game against Crystal Palace.
Little wonder the Austrian felt able to bask in the applause of the jubilant away fans after the final whistle. It has been a torturous first half of the season for the Saints, humiliated 9-0 at home by Leicester in October and deep in relegation peril.
Suddenly, here they are after four wins in six games with their confidence restored. ‘We played Chelsea off the park,’ said midfielder James Ward-Prowse.
They defended deep and in numbers and they set out to frustrate Chelsea and stop them finding a rhythm. Ryan Bertrand was booked for time-wasting with less than half an hour on the clock and the game still goalless but Southampton broke out of defence with great pace and purpose and scored two wonderful goals.
The first was a delicious curling shot by Obafemi after Callum Hudson-Odoi had been crowded out and dispossessed on halfway.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg swept a pass forward to the teenage striker, who slipped away from Fikayo Tomori and accepted the invitation from Kurt Zouma when he backed off and allowed him to go for goal.
Chelsea improved in the second half when Lampard sent on Mason Mount and reverted to a back four.
They played at a healthier tempo and Mount linked up with Tammy Abraham but they did not create clear openings and Saints proved even more dangerous on the counter-attack.
Tomori made a sliding intervention to deny Che Adams and Kepa Arrizabalaga made a splendid low save to deny Redmond. It was Redmond who extended the lead with a finish from close range following a long passing sequence and an inadvertent assist from N’Golo Kante as he tried to win the ball from Stuart Armstrong.
‘This was by far the best performance of the season and the best since I’ve been here,’ said Saints boss Hasenhuttl.
‘We deserved to win and were so committed and brave on the ball and the second goal was what we always talk about: to stay cool and play from deep at the right moments.
‘We have gone from playing like a relegation team to playing like a Premier League team.’