Alonso's delightful free-kick goal seals Chelsea victory over Southampton
Chelsea inched past Southampton 1-0 in an entertaining Premier League contest at a rainy Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
The first half was a vibrant affair with both teams looking to get forward. Chelsea enjoyed the lion's share of the chances with N'Golo Kante, Marcos Alonso and Pedro all forcing Fraser Forster into sharp saves.
Chelsea had a couple of alarms to deal with themselves and had Gary Cahill to thank after he cleared away a dangerous cross from under his own crossbar. The Blues eventually got the breakthrough their positivity deserved on the stroke of half-time when Alonso curled a delicious free kick inside the post.
Chelsea continued in a similar vein in the second half but were unable to add to their tally despite several opportunities to do so. Forster had to be on his toes to keep out a rasping effort from Alonso as well as an effort from a tight angle by Alvaro Morata. Cesc Fabregas thought he had put the game to bed late on only to see his effort roll agonisingly along the goal line.
The Blues were on the front foot from the beginning and were always the more threatening side. The midfield balance was good and the front three were a constant menace.
The last 15 minutes were unnecessarily nervy for Chelsea due to an inability to capitalise on their superiority. The lack of ruthlessness was almost exposed as Southampton went searching for an equaliser in the closing stages.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- With he exception of one change in defence, Antonio Conte retained faith in the side that won 3-1 at Huddersfield and was duly rewarded with another professional display. He marshalled his resources well via his substitutions ahead of a busy festive period.
Player ratings (1-10, 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 -- Was not called into action until late on but made two sharp stops to ensure Chelsea took all three points.
DF Gary Cahill, 8 -- Brought back into the side, he made his presence felt early on with a crucial intervention in his own goalmouth and was defensively solid throughout. Stung Forster's palms with a long-range shot.
DF Andreas Christensen, 7 -- A rare impulsive moment saw him caught ahead of the ball, which allowed Charlie Austin a clear run on goal. That was the only blemish on yet another assured performance.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 -- Used the ball well and wasn't shy about getting forward when the chance allowed.
MF Marcos Alonso, 8 -- Heavily involved from an attacking perspective, drawing two good saves and heading another chance just past the post. Broke the deadlock with a sublime free kick that caught Southampton napping.
MF N'Golo Kante, 7 -- Almost scored a wonder goal when his shot was just palmed away from the top corner. Bossed the midfield in his usual dynamic way.
MF Tiemoue Bakayoko, 7 -- An imposing display from the Frenchman, who used his physique to his advantage. Won several important challenges and distributed the ball simply but intelligently.
MF Victor Moses, 7 -- Grew into the game after an indifferent start. Was assured defensively and provided greater attacking threat as the match wore on.
FW Willian, 9 -- The Brazilian was at his impish, jinking best as he slipped through tackles with ease. Chelsea's most incisive player despite rarely troubling the goalkeeper.
FW Eden Hazard, 8 -- Always a threat, he occupied several defenders and allowed his teammates to thrive in the space. Thought he had scored a wonderfully worked goal in the second half only for it to be ruled out for offside.
FW Pedro, 7 -- Was a nuisance for the opposition all afternoon with his movement and anticipation. Unfortunately was unable to make the most of his good work.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 8 -- Made a big impression after coming on, setting up chances and almost scoring himself.
FW Alvaro Morata, NR -- A lively cameo in which he tested Forster from close range.
DF Davide Zappacosta, NR -- Little time to make an impact.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.