The big difference between Chelsea's 3-2 defeat to Stoke last season and 2-0 win on Monday was Nemanja Matic's dominant display in midfield, writes Matt Stanger...
A topsy-turvy, manic encounter, and yet entirely predictable when neither side can defend. Immense fun, but weren't these two teams with title ambitions in August..?
The third most popular wager on the betting comparison site Oddschecker on Tuesday afternoon (after a couple of gee-gees) was the 5/1 offered on Southampton being relegated from the Premier League. Those odds were clearly seen as remarkably tempting as other bookmakers had them as short as 7/2 - equal odds to Hull and shorter odds than Swansea and Sunderland.
Never mind that Hull ended the season in a vortex of awful form and now have Europa League football added to their schedules, never mind that Swansea have lost three of their better players and have a rookie manager or that Sunderland's summer business amounts to moves for Billy Jones, Jordi Gomez, Costel Pantilimon and Patrick van Aanholt, Southampton - who finished last season 23 points above relegation - are clearly the more likely club to fall out of the Premier League.
This rush to condemn Southampton is all the more bizarre because another market offered by several bookies is for the highest-placed Premier League club 'without the Big 7'. The fact that such a market even exists is a) odd and b) indicative of the realistic ambitions of those clubs who finished behind Manchester United last season, while it's telling that the Saints are the second favourites in that particular market just behind Newcastle. They're roughly 5/1 to go down and roughly 5/1 to finish eighth. Which illustrates nicely why the bookies almost always win; they'll lap up the money piled on in July haste as the Saints finish somewhere between tenth and 13th in May.
Southampton have of course lost four of their first-choice XI from last season and appear to be on the verge of losing two more (although chairman Ralph Krueger insists otherwise). Of those four, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren had reportedly made it clear that they wanted to leave the club and all three have been sold at what is euphemistically called 'a premium'. Basically, an awful lot of cash has been thrown in Southampton's direction for a collection of players with itchy feet who helped them to eighth and were unlikely to take them any higher. Add in the money from Arsenal for the potential of Calum Chambers and the rumoured £35m for Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez from Tottenham and that's a potential incoming pot of around £120m.
Yes, that's the spine of the side but talk of a 'firesale' is wide of the mark. If they were selling these players to any club with a pot to p*** in, then you could legitimately call it a firesale and lump on Southampton to plunge down the Premier League, but Southampton have been selling on their terms to bigger clubs with bigger turnovers. Those clubs have mostly over-paid as Southampton have been able to rake in the familiarity/hyperbole tax that is added to so many transfers within the Premier League.
Meanwhile, with unprecedented money coming into the club, new boss Ronald Koeman has shopped in the Dutch supermarket for Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle, and is likely to go back for Jordy Clasie. Unlike when Aston Villa sold Ashley Young and Stewart Downing at 'a premium', Southampton have a manager who is very familiar with a market that is not the Premier League. Just as Newcastle exploited Ligue Un using Graham Carr's excellent contacts, the Saints have an 'in' to the Eredivisie.
Other rumoured targets like Leroy Fer, Fraser Forster, Serge Gnabry, Vlad Chiriches and Lewis Holtby - all of whom would walk into those sides deemed equally or less likely to be relegated - suggest that Koeman will not only be shopping in Holland. All those targets sound plausible and all would sit easily in a mid-table side. Which is, coincidentally, exactly what Southampton were last season and are incredibly likely to be again.