Diego Costa occupies Saints defence as Chelsea score comeback win
Chelsea showed great resolve to win 2-1 at in-form Southampton, the first time that they have come back from behind to claim all three points in the Premier League this season.
The game had started badly for the visitors. Pedro, one of the team's better performers in recent weeks, had to be replaced within seven minutes due to a hamstring problem. Oscar's subsequent introduction prompted a reshuffle along the forward line.
Even so, Chelsea dominated possession in the first half without creating any real clear-cut chances. At the other end, Southampton were largely focused on delivering crosses into the penalty area at every opportunity, and Shane Long should really have done better when he headed over with Thibaut Courtois stranded. He made up for it just before half-time when he pounced on a dreadful error from Baba Rahman before chipping the ball over a pedestrian Courtois and inside the far post.
If anything, Chelsea saw even more of the ball in the second half, and they should have equalised when the first moment of productivity from Eden Hazard picked out an unmarked Diego Costa, who was unable to control his volley. Southampton then decided to try to get under Costa's skin with Virgil van Dijk indulging in some play acting in an attempt to get the Spanish international into trouble. Although that ruse didn't work, the imaginary fracas must have made a lasting impression on referee Martin Atkinson, who booked Costa soon after for a clearly accidental clash with Van Dijk.
If Southampton thought they had done their job, they were soon proved wrong as the rising emotions stirred Costa and his teammates into action. The pressure finally broke as Cesc Fabregas scored a somewhat fortuitous goal when his deft cross curled into the far corner.
This was the catalyst for Chelsea to set up camp in the Saints half, and there was only going to be one winner from this moment on. The decisive moment came when Branislav Ivanovic out-muscled Van Dijk and thumped his header past Fraser Forster to claim a deserved three points for Guus Hiddink's men.
Player ratings (1-10, 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Thibaut Courtois, 6 -- Not a very convincing outing for the stopper who has recently misplaced his commanding aerial presence. Was almost punished by Long after being caught out of position, spilled a regulation cross shortly afterward and was slow coming off his line for Southampton's goal.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta 6 -- As ever, the Spaniard was a bundle of energy. Unfortunately, many of his forward forays helped to muddy the waters, and while there were few defensive errors, this was not one of his best displays.
DF Branislav Ivanovic, 8 -- With John Terry and Kurt Zouma out injured, the vice-captain has assumed his new responsibilities with gusto. Having been fantastic in the air defensively, it was apt that it was his header that decided the game.
DF Gary Cahill, 7 -- Another to have responded well to the mini injury crisis, the 30-year-old had another impressive match. Was involved in a penalty shout when Charlie Austin ran through on goal, though the referee correctly waved away the appeals.
DF Baba Rahman, 5 -- Never really looked comfortable and undid much of his recent good work with a poor header that Long intercepted before opening the scoring. Was not allowed to make up for his mistake as he was somewhat harshly replaced at halftime.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 7 -- Saw plenty of the ball but had to wait until the second half to become an influential figure in the game. Scored an unintended equaliser and then dictated the play as Southampton chased shadows.
MF John Obi Mikel, 7 -- A neat and tidy performance from the midfielder who injected a calmness into proceedings. Kept his game simple and was positionally sound, allowing others to be more expressive around him.
MF Willian, 7 -- Another to grow into the game as it progressed, having been shifted out wide following Pedro's withdrawal. Almost scored the winner when his shot flashed just past the post before delivering the corner from which the game was won.
FW Eden Hazard, 6 -- A lacklustre display from the Belgian who is so short of confidence that he is strangely reluctant to take on defenders, shoot or even attempt a difficult pass. Did put in one good cross for Costa but otherwise kept his game free of risk, which made life easy for Southampton.
FW Pedro, NR -- His day was over before it had really begun, forced off with a hamstring injury after just a few minutes.
FW Diego Costa, 7 -- Never really looked to score, though his hulking presence was enough to unnerve the opposition back four, who then tried to test his temperament with a mixture of rugged challenges and theatrics. The striker responded by upping his game and it was his desire to run in behind the defence that created the opportunity for the equaliser.
MF Oscar, 7 -- Introduced early on, the Brazilian was not shy about shooting at goal, which kept Forster on his toes throughout.
DF Kenedy, 7 -- Came on at half-time for Rahman and injected pace and energy up and down the left flank.
MF Nemanja Matic, NR -- An injury-time substitute, he didn't even touch the ball.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.