Chelsea’s poor form under manager Graham Potter continued as a trademark free-kick from James Ward-Prowse earned the Premier League’s bottom club Southampton a surprise victory at Stamford Bridge.
Ward-Prowse scored the game’s only goal in first-half stoppage time, sending a curling effort over the Chelsea wall and into the corner from the edge of the penalty area.
The result means Chelsea have now won just two games in their last 14 in all competitions.
Managerless Southampton will hope it can kick-start their attempts to escape the relegation zone.
The visitors started magnificently in west London and twice went close to scoring before Ward-Prowse’s strike, with Kamaldeen Sulemana shooting straight at Kepa Arrizabalaga before Kalidou Koulibaly blocked Stuart Armstrong’s follow-up.
The half-time introduction of Raheem Sterling breathed new life into the Blues’ toothless forward line, but Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ crucial block denied the England international an equaliser midway through the second period.
Romain Perraud followed suit minutes later with a tremendous goalline clearance to prevent a Sterling header from ending up in the net, as Potter’s team failed to score for the sixth time in 2023.
There was a lengthy stoppage towards the end of the second half because of an injury to Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who was caught in the face by Southampton substitute Sekou Mara.
The 33-year-old needed oxygen treatment on the pitch before being carried off on a stretcher, although he was conscious as he left the field.
Blues draw yet another blank
Having had their deficiencies in front of goal laid bare in Wednesday’s 1-0 Champions League defeat at Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea will again be wondering how they failed to find the net against a side who had managed just one clean sheet in the Premier League all season before Saturday.
Potter handed January signing David Fofana his full debut in an attempt to inject some imagination into the Blues’ faltering front line, but the 20-year-old Ivorian failed to make an impact before being hooked at half-time.
Indeed, the home side struggled to carve out any meaningful opportunities until midway through the second half, and when they did they were thwarted by some sensational last-ditch defending from the visitors.
Sterling in particular will be scratching his head in disbelief, as Maitland-Niles, Perraud and Romeo Lavia all denied the former Liverpool and Manchester City man from point-blank range.
Late on, Southampton goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu was also equal to Conor Gallagher’s effort as the Blues’ push for an equaliser proved in vain.
The serious-looking injury to Azpilicueta compounded a miserable afternoon for Potter, who was booed by home supporters after the full-time whistle.
Before kick-off, fans had given a minute’s applause in memory of former Chelsea winger Christian Atsu, who was found dead almost two weeks on from the earthquake in Turkey.
Superb Saints secure priceless victory
Caretaker manager Ruben Selles made no secret of his desire to become Saints’ permanent boss after the club’s talks with Jesse Marsch broke down in midweek, and this display will have given his hopes of succeeding Nathan Jones a huge boost.
Pressing Chelsea high up the pitch, Saints could have taken an early lead when Benoit Badiashile’s poor touch gifted Sulemana a free sight at goal, but Arrizabalaga was equal to the Ghanaian’s shot before Armstrong sent the follow-up straight at Koulibaly.
Paul Onuachu also headed wide from a good position after beating Ben Chilwell to Ward-Prowse’s inswinging delivery.
In the end, Southampton’s goal came from a familiar source as Ward-Prowse curled home his 17th direct free-kick in the Premier League. Only former England captain David Beckham has managed more in the top flight, with 18.
Adam Armstrong could have given the Saints a two-goal cushion in the second half but was denied by Arrizabalaga’s outstretched leg.
The win gave Southampton their first league double against Chelsea in 35 years. They last achieved that feat courtesy of a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in 1988, a match in which a 17-year-old Alan Shearer made his league debut.
Despite Saturday’s victory, they are still bottom of the league table, while Chelsea are 10th.