Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
St. Mary’s Stadium/April 14, 2018
This a certainly a prelude to the FA Cup semi-final match between these two teams and it’s also a match that carries significant ramifications in both ends of the table with the Saints fighting for their Premier League survival while the Blues are trying to hold off the late charge by fellow Londoners Arsenal with just three points separating both sides going into the last six matches of the season. It was a familiar story again against West Ham for the Blues after dropping points in a match that we totally dominated because we just couldn’t make our dominance count and the Hammers scored with one of the few chances they had in the game to the delight of the traveling support and the utter frustration of ours. The draw against Hammers all but ended any faint hope we may have harboured of finishing in the top four going into the match following Liverpool’s dropped points, as ten points stand between us and fourth place.
This match will be the 101st encounter between these two historic teams. After failing to win any of the first 5 matches against Southampton (L2 D3) Chelsea has gone on to dominate these fixtures with Chelsea winning 42 victories, 30 losses and 28 draws in 100 matches against the Saints over the years. The last time a Chelsea team lost to the Saints was in October 2015 during the Jose Mourinho’s last season at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea losing the match to goals from Steven Davis, Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle despite taking an early lead through a Willian free kick. Chelsea has especially dominated the against Saints in the Premier League particularly since the turn of the new millennium with Saints managing just three wins in the last 20 Premier League matches against Chelsea (L12 D5). Chelsea has never failed to score against Southampton in all competitions since a 0-0 draw against the Saints on Boxing Day in 2002. As a matter of fact, the Blues are on a run of four consecutive wins against the Saints keeping clean sheets in three of those four matches. Like David Moyes, Chelsea is Mark Hughes’ least favourable clubwith the Welshman managing just 5 wins and 4 draws in 30 matches against the Blues but like Moyes he has the potential to cause Chelsea a lot of trouble if given the room to.
To be perfectly honest, I was a little taken aback that Antonio Conte kept almost the same outfield players that lost to Spurs for the visit of West Ham to Stamford Bridge on Sunday with Gary Cahill for Andreas Christensen the only change in the outfield players and Thibaut Courtois coming back in for Willy Caballero the only other change from the team that played Tottenham a week earlier. Not that I’m saying we didn’t play well against Spurs because I think we could have ran away with it the way we played in the first half but I saw some tired legs in that game particularly Marcos Alonso and so it came as a surprise that he retained his place for the West Ham match. I’m sure Emerson Palmieri would be wondering what more he needed to do to convince Conte he can be trusted to deliver as he’s showed flashes of what he can do on the few occasions he’s been called upon. Davide Zappacosta has become something of a forgotten entity in recent times with Antonio Conte choosing to go with Victor Moses for virtually every match thereby consigning the Italian to the substitutes’ bench. Reports surfaced during the week that Danny Drinkwater may be considering his Stamford Bridge future at the end of the season and who can blame him with the England midfielder finding himself below N’Golo Kante, Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko in Antonio Conte’s pecking order. I expected to see Hudson-Odoi play in the game against West Ham last week but it never happened but his two-goal showing in the FA Youth Cup semi-final second leg on Tuesday may force Conte’s hands to play him in some capacity on Saturday lunchtime. Gary Cahill brought back some steel into the back three on Sunday but ultimately his efforts weren’t enough for a clean sheet but I expect him to continue, but this time at the expense of Toni Rudiger who’s been in the team for the last six matches and needs a rest in my opinion. Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen should complete the back three because I think this match will surely come too soon for David Luiz, who returned to full training during the week. N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas will most likely continue their central midfield partnership except if Antonio Conte decides to throw in one of Danny Drinkwater or Tiemoue Bakayoko in place of the Spaniard against what’s surely going to be a physical Southampton midfield. I don’t know what point Antonio Conte is trying to prove with his late substitutions especially when the game is calling for fresh options from the bench. Against West Ham on Sunday I think Olivier Giroud came into the fray ten minutes too late. Even though I think Alvaro Morata had a decent enough outing against the Hammers I believe he lacked the physical strength needed to stand a chance against someone of Angelo Ogbonna’s stature but Giroud has that physical presence to trouble the Italian and he did when he came on. Again I expect Olivier Giroud to start ahead of Alvaro Morata at St. Mary Stadium for the same reason I outlined above with both Willian and Eden Hazard playing either side of him.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Willian, Hazard, Giroud.
Last Five Matches: DLDWW
Injuries: David Luiz (Knock) –Out; Davide Zappacosta (Knock) – Doubt; Ethan Ampadu (Ankle) – Out.
Mark Hughes will be looking to get one over his former side on Saturday as his Southampton team welcomes Chelsea to St. Mary in the opening fixture of this weekend’s round of Premier League matches. Even though he has lost the two games he has taken charge of since succeeding Mauricio Pellegrino in the Saints’ dugout – conceding three goals in both matches against West Ham and Arsenal – Sparky will be hoping to get St. Mary’s up and running against the Blues. Mark Hughes has tinkered with his team selection in the two games he has overseen for the Saints. In the defeat to West Ham United, he lined his team up in a 4-4-2 formation with a back four of Cedric Soares, Jack Stephens, Wesley Hoedt and former Blue Ryan Bertrand protecting Alex McCarthy’s goal. Mario Lemina partnered Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in central midfield with Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond playing either side of them and Manolo Gabbiadini and Charlie Austin leading the attack. But for the visit to the Emirates Stadium last time out he set his team up in a 3-4-3 formation perhaps in readiness for the visit of Chelsea and it almost got them a point before Danny Welbeck’s late winner snatched all three points for Arsene Wenger’s men. The trio of Jack Stephens, Maya Yoshida and Wesley Hoedt lined up ahead of Alex McCarthy in goal. With Mario Lemina out with an illness, Oriol Romeu came into the midfield to partner Hojbjerg with Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand occupying the wingback positions. Dusan Tadic and James Ward-Prowse provided support for lone striker Shane Long, who got their opener before making way for Charlie Austin in the first half due to injury. That’s likely to be how Hughes line up against Chelsea on Saturday with the likely exception of Lemina making a return at the expense of Romeu and one of Charlie Austin or Manolo Gabbiadini or both leading the line. But with Jack Stephens suspended Hughes may decide to tinker his team once again and spring a surprise.
McCarthy; Soares, Yoshida, Hoedt, Bertrand; Ward-Prowse, Lemina, Hojbjerg, Tadic; Austin, Gabbiadini.
Last 5 matches: LLWLD
Injuries: Shane Long (Ankle) – Doubt; Steven Davis (ACL) – Out; Mario Lemina (Illness) – Doubt; Sam McQueen (Groin) – Out.
N’Golo Kante vs. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg
N’Golo Kante is the main man in the Chelsea midfield and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is turning out to be that man for Southampton. On Saturday however he’s going to be up against the best in the Premier League and one of the best in the world but I’m sure that’s a duel the tough-tackling Dane would be looking forward to.
Andreas Christensen vs. Charlie Austin
Hopefully the rest afforded to our Danish Prince against West Ham would make him rejuvenated for this battle with the injury-prone but highly effective Charlie Austin. The English striker possesses pace, power and the killer instinct in front of goal in equal measure and Christensen will have to go the extra mile to keep him quiet.
Eden Hazard vs. Cedric Soares
Although a lot of people has said Eden Hazard performance has tailed off in the second half of the season a closer look at the statistics of his performances this year tells a different story altogether. Portuguese right back Soares likes to bomb forward when the need arises and he provided the assist for both goals at the Emirates last Sunday but with Hazard on the loose the Portuguese will do well to cut down on his overlapping runs. I personally cannot wait to see how this duel plays out tomorrow.
Both Antonio Conte and Mark Hughes need the three points on offer to put pressure on teams around them heading into the last five matches of the season. A win for Southampton tomorrow will put them above Crystal Palace into 17th place, at least for a few hours until Palace takes on Brighton and Hove Albion, with a game in hand over Roy Hodgson’s team and a win for Chelsea will temporary cut the gap to the top four to seven pending the result of Tottenham and Liverpool’s matches against Man City and Bournemouth respectively. We failed to take advantage of Liverpool’s dropped points last week so we have to concentrate on our own game at a ground that’s been favourable to us in recent times. Chelsea has scored at least a goal in the last twelve visits to the St. Mary’s (W8 D2 L2) and you have to go back over two decades to the last time we failed to find the net against Southampton on their own turf in a 1-0 win for the home side in December 1997. If there’s something I’ve learnt from the way our season has gone it’s that history and statistics don’t help if you don’t show up on the day. We face Burnley next in the league on Thursday before a trip to Wembley to face tomorrow’s opponents in the FA Cup semi-final and you can look to this space for previews of both those matches. Good luck to the team tomorrow and remember to Keep The Blue Flag Flying High, Ciao!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Mirror UK
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