Chelsea missed the chance to move eight points clear of Manchester City in the Premier League title race after being held to a 1-1 draw by Southampton at Stamford Bridge today.
Burnley’s surprise 1-0 win over City on Saturday gave the west Londoners – who also have a game in hand – an invitation to clasp one hand on the trophy.
But Jose Mourinho’s side passed up the opportunity as they tried in vein to break down the Saints’ stubborn rearguard after Dusan Tadic’s first-half penalty cancelled out Diego Costa’s header.
Having been eliminated from the Champions League by 10-man Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday, the Blues went into this afternoon’s clash with a point to prove following the turbulent fallout to that result.
And Mourinho’s charges made an ominous start to the clash, and found their reward when Costa rose to head Branislav Ivanovic’s superb cross beyond Fraser Forster to end a seven-game goal drought.
Criticised for their lack of killer instinct after twice throwing away a lead against PSG, questions over the Blues’ ruthlessness are bound to re-surface after Southampton swiftly became the better team.
First, Thibaut Courtois was forced to beat away Sadio Mane’s effort, before Tadic curled narrowly over the bar from outside the box to increase anxiety levels inside Stamford Bridge.
It was a sign of things to come as, Tadic bagged a deserved equaliser from the penalty spot – albeit in fortuitous fashion after Courtois got a foot on the spot-kick – when Mane went to ground under a challenge from Nemanja Matic.
Ronald Koeman’s side continued to dominate the half, with Mane and Shane Long wreaking havoc in the Blues’ defence but the hosts survived until the break.
The visitors retained that momentum after the break and Courtois was forced to tip away Toby Alderweireld’s fierce free kick moments after the restart.
With an eight-point cushion over second-placed City up for grabs, Chelsea began playing like would-be champions and were unlucky not to move ahead on 55 minutes when Costa turned Willian’s fierce drive against the post.
But Southampton could, and perhaps should, taken the lead just after the hour mark when a moment of magic from Tadic helped tee up Long, whose goal-bound shot was blocked by Gary Cahill.
The pendulum swung back in Chelsea’s favour as Oscar and Hazard both saw efforts saved, before Forster denied the Brazilian on 76 minutes in what was arguably the best chance of the half.
The hosts came agonisingly close to snatching the victory when John Terry missed no fewer than three stoppage-time chances in quick succession, but the men from the south coast held on for a hard-fought point.