Chelsea vs. Southampton Preview
Stamford Brige/April 25, 2017
Well, if there is indeed a psychological advantage attached to the FA Cup semi-final between Chelsea and Spurs going into the final six matches of the season, then it is ours. The mood at Stamford Bridge would have lifted following the victory at Wembley this past weekend, and as much as we would like to keep celebrating getting one over our own “noisy neighbours” , unfortunately we cannot do that as we get back on the title trail. Southampton visit Stamford Bridge on Tuesday evening and a win against the south coast club would bring us three points closer to the title and put extra pressure on Spurs ahead of their game against Palace at Selhurst Park on Wednesday. Antonio Conte clearly had this game in mind while drafting his team sheet for the Spurs game, with both Hazard and Costa starting from the bench an indication both of them will play key roles in our quest to reclaim the title. Apart from Cahill who’s battling with a stomach infection, Antonio Conte should have a full fit squad to choose from. While Chelsea was battling Spurs at Wembley, Southampton was at home having a free day because their weekend opponents, Arsenal, was also in FA Cup action at the weekend meaning they’ve had at least seven extra days to prepare for this game. Claude Puel is one of the Premier League managers to have given into the increasingly popular 3-4-3 formation this season and it wouldn’t exactly be a surprise if he were to follow Mauricio Pochettino and mirror our formation, something Puel did in the reverse fixture. The fact that this is a midweek fixture would give Stamford Bridge a carnival-like atmosphere following the weekend’s victory and will make the visit as uncomfortable as possible for our opponents from the south coast.
Nathan Ake certainly did his chances of continued involvement a world of good having been drafted in to deputize for Cahill at Wembley, and he gave a good account of himself. The news coming out of Cobham today is Cahill is back training for two days but should Conte decide not to risk him then Ake would be ready to take his place again. Nathan wasn’t at all overwhelmed by the situation on Saturday and I’m sure if the coach were to give him another chance to impress he wouldn’t disappoint. I expect to see Fabregas play alongside newly-crowned PFA Player of the Year N'golo Kante because Southampton would most likely play with men behind and the Spaniard is the only one in the squad to unlock stubborn defenses with his passes. Willian is also knocking on the door with his recent performances and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was to start ahead of Pedro for this one.
Injuries: Gary Cahill (illness)-Slight Doubt
Last 5 Matches: LWLWW
Judging by their last three league fixtures, Southampton will most likely lineup in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Since the injury to Virgil van Dirk and the transfer of Jose Fonte to West Ham, Jack Stephen has been partnering Maya Yoshida in the centre of the defense with Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand occupying the full back positions. One key member of their squad is former Chelsea player Oriol Romeu, who anchors the midfield with either Steven Davies or Jody Clasie with the trio of Dusan Tadic, James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond playing behind their lone striker. Shane Long has deputized for the injured Manolo Gabbiadini to great effect but the Italian should be leading their line at Stamford Bridge. Southampton are out of the relegation battle but they also cannot realistically qualify for Europe. In any case, they will want to play to cement their place in the top half of the table, as they currently sit ninth.
Injuries: Virgil van Dirk (Foot) - Out; Charlie Austin (Shoulder) – Out; Matt Targett (Hamstring) – Out; Alex McCarthy (Hamstring)
Last 5 Matches: LWWDL
3 Matchups to Watch
- Costa vs. Maya Yoshida: Costa’s performances seemed to have dropped to an all-time low recently. He has gone five league games without a goal for Chelsea, the longest drough since he arrived, and if he draws a blank again tomorrow he would he would have equaled his longest time without scoring. Conte giving him some rest on Saturday should keep him refreshed and up for the challenge posed by Southampton’s Japanese centre back.
- Luiz vs. Manolo Gabiaddini: David Luiz is sure to have his hands full with this Italian if the way he has adjusted to life in the Premier League and our coach’s comments about him in his press conference is anything to go by. Luiz hasn’t been at his best in the last couple of games, perhaps because the injury inflicted on him way back by Sergio Aguero is beginning to take its cumulative toll. Whatever the reason for not being at his best he will have to relegate it to the back of his mind because Manolo Gabbiadini is as tough as they come for any defender.
- Kante vs. Oriol Romeu: Since his departure from Stamford Bridge two seasons ago, Oriol Romeu seemed to have landed on his feet after a horrific injury. He’s very important to how Claude Puel likes to play which is to dominate in the midfield area. The Frenchman even compared the Spaniard to our own French destroyer and I guess a battle between the duo would go a long way to determining how close he really is to N’Golo Kante. I trust Kante would be up for the battle following him being named the best player in the league by his peers.
The fact we’re playing a day before Tottenham means a win puts added pressure on them at Selhurst Park against a largely resurgent Crystal Palace side under Sam Allardyce. Antonio Conte has reiterated that we only need to worry about ourselves and concentrate on our game. I admit it won’t be easy considering Southampton won this fixture last season, but a win would bring us a step closer to the title and if Spurs are to drop against Palace that would be an added bonus. I know it isn’t going to be easy but I expect nothing less than three points at the end of tomorrow’s game. Onwards and Upwards, Blues!