By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Stamford Bridge/December 16, 2017
After two successive away matches we’re back in the comfort of Stamford Bridge where we’ll play our next two games with this game followed by the Carabao Cup quarter final match against Bournemouth on Wednesday. It was so important for us to get back on winning ways against Huddersfield Town on Tuesday night after what was a below par performance against the Hammers at the weekend. Thanks to the three points against Huddersfield on Tuesday night, we now a healthy four-point gap against the chasing pack in the race for the top four and Antonio Conte will want that to continue at the weekend with possibilities of stretching that lead with a win on Saturday.
This will be the 100th time these two teams will faced off with Chelsea having W41 D28 L30 from the previous 99 matches. Chelsea and Southampton have faced off in every domestic competition you can think of but mostly in the league. In the Premier League era, Chelsea have faced Southampton 38 times in three competitions (Premier League 36 League Cup 1 FA Cup 1) with Chelsea winning both cup competitions and a considerable number of league fixtures (W20 D8 L8). One thing this fixture has seen plenty of in recent times is goals, goals and more goals. In the last 15 matches between these two teams 51 goals were scored, with Chelsea getting most of them, on the average of 3.4 per match. In our last ten Premier League matches against Southampton we have scored at least one goal winning 5 of them (L2 D3). Southampton have had some joy on their recent visits to SW6, they have only lost twice in their last five trips to Stamford Bridge (D2 W1) scoring on every occasion. Only one of our last ten encounters with Southampton at Stamford Bridge have failed to produce a goal so I expect goals in this one and hopefully we’ll score more than our opponents on Saturday.
Antonio Conte freshened up the team for the trip to the John Smith’s Stadium on Tuesday night with the quartet of Alvaro Morata, Cesc Fabregas, Gary Cahill and Davide Zappacosta making way for Antonio Rudiger, Victor Moses, Willian and Pedro as the coach switched from the 3-5-2 formation, that’s gaining so much popularity around Stamford Bridge, to the 3-4-3 formation that delivered the Premier League title last season. In the absence of the tired (or injured) Alvaro Morata, Eden Hazard was deployed at the top of our 3-man attack but was swiftly replaced once the game has been made secure by Pedro’s goal just before the hour mark. Willian has been pushing for a place back in the starting XI with his recent performances and he again showed why he’s so valuable with another top quality performance with a goal and two assists to his name and he rightly walked away with the MOTM award and it’s going to take some gut from the coach not to include him from the start on Saturday afternoon. Thibaut Courtois was within a few seconds of another clean sheet before Laurent Depoitre headed in the Terriers’ consolation goal and that would have sting more than him conceding three goals but he should still continue in goal when the Saints come to town on Saturday afternoon. Depending on the extent of Alvaro Morata’s back injury, Michy Batshuayi might get the chance to start a Premier League game for the first time since starting in the 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace earlier in the season because I doubt Conte will want to play Hazard as a ‘false 9’ against the tall and physical defense of Southampton. Cesc Fabregas should be well-rested by the time this game comes around hence should take his place beside Kante in what I expect to be a pretty physical midfield battle. Toni Rudiger hardly put a foot wrong in the game on Tuesday and should be in the running for another starting place on Saturday because he’s so good at picking out the runs of our wingbacks with his diagonal passes. He did it so effectively while picking out the run of Kenedy for the first and last goals against Nottingham Forest in the earlier round of the Carabao Cup and he did so again on Tuesday when picking out Moses’ run on several occasions and that’s something not every defender is capable of. It was good to see Ethan Ampadu get his Premier League bow on Tuesday night and based on his composed performance it sure was the first of many more to come. The boss certainly made use of the opportunity presented by his players putting the game to bed early which afforded him the luxury to take off Hazard, Kante and Christensen all within the 70th minute mark to keep them fresh for the weekend.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Hazard, Willian; Morata.
Last Five Matches: WLDWW
Injuries: Alvaro Morata (Back) –Doubt; David Luiz (Muscle) –Out.
Mauricio Pellegrino will be looking to turn around the defeat to Leicester City on Wednesday night as soon as possible and what better way to do that than to get one over the reigning champions on their own patch. To say Southampton was poor against Leicester City would be an understatement as they were overran by a team coached by Claude Puel, who was shown the door at Saint Mary’s just last summer, who has helped turned around the fortunes of the Foxes while the Saints languished in the bottom half of the table. Pellegrino has successfully convinced Virgil van Dirk to continue to play for the Saints but not even the lanky Dutchman has been able to stop the barrage of goals they have conceded this season. Southampton has only won one of their last five Premier League matches and one thing they have lacked this season is consistency. On Sunday, they were just a few minutes away from a famous victory against Arsenal before Olivier Giroud snatched a late draw for the London club and then to lose against Leicester City by 4-1 only points to their inconsistencies. Southampton has lined up predominantly in a 4-2-3-1 formation all season but Pellegrino the only exception so far was when he took his team to the Etihad to face run-away league leaders Man City late last month when he lined up with five across the back with Cedric Soares, Maya Yoshida, Virgil van Dirk, Wesley Hoedt and former Chelsea academy graduate Ryan Bertrand and it almost paid off with them being within seconds of snatching a draw before they were sucker-punched by Raheem Sterling with virtually the last kick of the game. He has since reverted back to type but he only two draws and a loss to show. Oriol Romeu has become a mainstay of this Southampton team and he got on the score sheet the last time he played at Stamford Bridge in their 2-4 loss in April. He’s likely to be partnered in central midfield by one of Mario Lemina or Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg with the trio of Dusan Tadic, Nathan Redmond and Sofiane Boufal playing behind Charlie Austin in attack. Cedric Soares, Maya Yoshida, Virgil van Dirk and Ryan Bertrand should complete the line-up.
Forster; Soares, Yoshida, van Dirk, Bertrand; Romeu, Hojbjerg; Redmond, Tadic, Boufal; Austin
Last Five Matches: LDDLW
Alvaro Morata vs. Virgil van Dirk
If Alvaro Morata is fit enough to start this match then he will be facing his most physical battle yet. Van Dirk isn’t a dirty defender but his physique is intimidating enough. Morata will have to stay on his feet longer if he’s to have any joy against the Dutch ‘giant’.
Cesc Fabregas vs. Oriol Romeu
Cesc Fabregas was rested for the match on Tuesday and so he’ll be ready to face the festive fixtures but against his compatriot he sure to have a hell of a fight if he’s to be his influential self tomorrow. Fabregas must also be aware defensively as Romeu has the knack to make late runs into the box especially during set plays. His goals at Stamford Bridge last season and against Manchester City came about just that way.
Andreas Christensen vs. Charlie Austin
Like Morata, Andreas Christensen will be coming up against his toughest opponent yet in Charlie Austin. The English striker is physical, fast and dangerous all in equal measure but if there’s one defender in our current squad who can stand up to what Charlie Austin brings it’s Christensen.
It’s hard to know the Southampton team that will turn up at Stamford Bridge on Saturday but whichever one turn up Chelsea have got to put this game to bed as soon as possible to afford Antonio Conte the luxury of giving deserved rest to his star players like he did at the John Smith’s Stadium with our Carabao Cup quarter final match against Bournemouth coming up on Wednesday. With both Manchester City and Manchester United having tricky assignments against Tottenham and West Brom respectively, a win against Southampton will turn the pressure up on both Manchester teams. Hopefully by the time you hear from me again, ahead of our match against Bournemouth, we’d have recorded our 12th league win of the season but until then be sure to Keep The Blue Flag Flying High.
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Metro
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