Blues battle back to beat Saints
Goals from Gary Cahill, John Terry and substitute Demba Ba earned Chelsea's sixth home win from seven games this season to extend Jose Mourinho's unbeaten Premier League record at Stamford Bridge to 67 games.
Mourinho was fuming with his team at times but would have been pleased with the response to the early blow.
Essien had a first Premier League start since May 2012 to forget and was replaced at half-time by Ba, who hit the post from the corner which led to Cahill heading in an equaliser.
Boruc went off with a hand injury and his replacement Paulo Gazzaniga was beaten by Terry's header as Chelsea took a lead they would not relinquish, with Ba adding a late third.
Chelsea had endured a mixed week following the 3-0 win at West Ham with qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League secured despite losing at Basle.
As impressive as Southampton were at the start, the Blues began their first of nine December games woefully before recovering by out-muscling their opponents in the manner of Mourinho teams of yesteryear.
And now the second-placed Blues are well positioned in a week which sees further tests against Sunderland and Stoke.
Never before has Mourinho suffered a league loss at Stamford Bridge, relying on hard work and, at times, luck.
Chelsea needed a controversial last-gasp penalty to draw with West Brom in the most recent home match.
That was the only time Chelsea had dropped points at home this season, but within seconds of their seventh home game beginning they were behind.
Nathaniel Clyne's ball down the right fell for Essien, who hooked it hopefully backwards over the head of Cahill and Rodriguez coolly side-footed in.
There was jubilation from Mauricio Pochettino and the visiting bench, knowing Southampton had won all six previous games in which they had opened the scoring this season.
Torres tried to spark a revival, surging into the area before tripping under the attentions of Jose Fonte as he prepared to shoot.
Boruc saved an Oscar shot before James Ward-Prowse curled a free-kick wide for Saints, as the visitors gave as good as they got.
Essien was off the pace as Saints enjoyed midfield supremacy and the Chelsea man was booked for diving after losing the ball next to Morgan Schneiderlin in his own half.
Torres' persistence down the right almost paid off when he crossed for Oscar, whose header was saved by Boruc before the Brazil attacking midfielder went off injured, with Frank Lampard coming on.
Boruc was at full stretch to deny Torres as the striker met Eden Hazard's cross and Lampard was unable to reach the follow up as Southampton cleared and reached the break with their lead intact.
Mourinho had seen enough and retreated from his technical area furious at his team's first-half display before referee Michael Oliver had blown for the break.
Essien, who spent last season with Mourinho at Real Madrid and was named 'The Wall' by the man he calls 'Daddy', did not return for the second half as Ba joined Torres up front.
A Lampard free-kick had Boruc back-pedalling and the goalkeeper palmed the ball over, but from the resulting corner the Pole was beaten and Chelsea were level.
Mata's set-piece found Branislav Ivanovic, whose header was redirected by Ba on to the post.
The ball ricocheted back, deceiving Boruc, and Cahill headed the ball in.
There was a lengthy pause following the goal as Boruc went off.
Gazzaniga's first act was to retrieve the ball from his net as Lampard returned a half-cleared corner to Mata and Terry rose highest to head into the Southampton net.
Chelsea were still well below their best despite squeezing Southampton into submission.
Ba did well to meet Cesar Azpilicueta's lofted pass behind Fonte, but dragged his shot wide with the goal gaping.
Torres was replaced by John Obi Mikel for the final few minutes as Mourinho sought further defensive security.
After Dani Osvaldo twice shot off target, Chelsea claimed a third.
Ramires kept possession on Chelsea's left before lofting a ball over for Ba to tuck in his first Premier League goal of the season and only the fourth by a Chelsea striker.
Related Chelsea News