Mastermind Mourinho digs Chelsea out of a hole

Tony Jimenez
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Chelsea's Gary Cahill (obscured) scores a goal as Southampton's goalkeeper Artur Boruc (R) reacts during their English Premier League soccer match at Stamford Bridge in London December 1, 2013. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

By Tony Jimenez

LONDON (Reuters) - Jose Mourinho again showed his tactical acumen could play a pivotal role in deciding the destiny of the Premier League title when his halftime formation switch prompted a stirring Chelsea comeback against Southampton.

The lively Saints silenced the Stamford Bridge crowd on Sunday when Jay Rodriguez pounced on a dreadful blunder by Michael Essien to put his side in front after just 13 seconds.

Southampton's energetic young team harassed and harried Chelsea at every turn and continued to look menacing in attack in a first-half show that proved their excellent start to the season was no fluke.

Mourinho has never been slow in coming forward when things are not working and two alterations on Sunday galvanised the Londoners into action.

The Portuguese replaced the injured Oscar with Frank Lampard in the 42nd minute and brought on Demba Ba at halftime to join Fernando Torres in attack as he switched from a 4-2-3-1 system to 4-4-2.

"The early goal was like a knife in my back, we weren't ready for that and by surprise we were losing 1-0," Mourinho told reporters after Chelsea rallied to win 3-1.

"When I had to change Oscar it looked defensive because we replaced him with Lampard but it was to prepare for the second half.

"I had to take Essien off and play with two strikers as he had a yellow card in a crucial area of the pitch," said Mourinho who was renowned for his astute tactical changes when he led Chelsea to successive league titles in 2005 and 2006.

"We went to 4-4-2 and gave Southampton a different game, a game they didn't expect, and it was difficult for them to cope."

Mourinho said he had been less than satisfied with Chelsea in the first half.

"We were losing and not producing enough so I wanted to give the opponent a new problem," said the self-styled 'Special One' after his side climbed to second in the table, four points behind leaders Arsenal.

"Southampton like to play out from the back but they stopped building from long which allowed us to play in their half and to start creating chances," added Mourinho.

"You can say our first two goals were from set pieces but they arrive and accumulate because we were so dominant."

VINTAGE TERRY

Gary Cahill equalised with a stooping header after Ba hit the post from a 55th-minute corner and captain John Terry marked his 593rd game, leap-frogging John Hollins into fourth place in Chelsea's all-time list, by scoring with a vintage near-post header.

Ba made certain of the points in the 90th minute when he lunged full-length to poke in the third goal after trickery from Brazilian Ramires on the left.

Torres did not get on the scoresheet for Chelsea but the home fans saluted his not-stop endeavour by giving the Spain striker a standing ovation when he was substituted late on.

"The crowd here know football and they know sometimes a striker not scoring goals can give a big contribution to the team," said Mourinho.

"The way Fernando is working for us is fantastic and this crowd are very loyal at Stamford Bridge when they feel that someone gives everything for them."

The Chelsea manager was also glowing in his praise of playmaker Juan Mata who revelled on his return to the starting lineup following a spell warming the bench.

"It was good," was Mourinho's assessment of Mata's display. "In the second half he gave us what we needed.

"I needed him to be a bit of a winger but also come inside and connect with the attacking players. He did that well."