180px-Chelsea_FC.svg_-150x150Southampton logo
CHELSEA

v

SOUTHAMPTON

Stamford Bridge, London

December 1, 2013; 16:10 GMT

***

After sleep-walking through their Champions League encounter against Basel, Chelsea face a tricky fixture at home in the league as they prepare to welcome Southampton, who have lost only twice this season.

After heading into the international break on the backfoot, losing to Newcastle and then barely managing to draw at home aganst West Brom, Chelsea came back strongly to register a strong performance away at West Ham. That, however, was followed by one of their worst performances of the season, as they succumbed to Basel in the Champions League without a fight. Mourinho’s men may have qualified for the knockout phase despite the loss, but they need to add consistency to their game, if they are to challenge for honors come May. The manager can’t hide behind reasons such as fatigue, especially considering the fresh players he has had on the bench, most notably Juan Mata. He needs to utilize his resources more effectively and ensure that Chelsea start winning consistently.

Southampton have been a breath of fresh air in the league this season. They presently sit fifth in the table, level on points with forth-placed Man City. Their only poor performances this season have come against Sunderland in the League Cup, Stoke and most recently against Arsenal at the Emirates. They have already defeated Liverpool and secured a draw against United at Old Trafford this season and will not shy away from this game against Chelsea.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Chelsea

Samuel Eto’o suffered a groin injury against Basel and has been ruled out for two weeks, but the good news for Chelsea is that Fernando Torres has been deemed fit to play again. David Luiz is back in training but remains unavailable this weekend, while Marko van Ginkel remains the only long-term casualty at Stamford Bridge.

In the last league game against West Ham, Mourinho had lined up his team in a 4-3-3 system that was hugely successful in his first reign and the team responded to the change by delivering a solid performance albeit against a poor side. This weekend, however, Mourinho might revert to the 4-2-3-1 blueprint, primarily because Lampard is expected to be rested in this game.

Petr Cech will start in goal with Ivanovic and Azpilicueta deployed at right and left fullback respectively. The central defence will comprise of Terry and Cahill with John Obi Mikel and Ramires marshaling the central midfield ahead of them. The attacking band is expected to comprise of Schurrle on the left, Hazard on the right and Juan Mata playing through the middle. The fit-again Fernado Torres will lead the attack and will be expected to rediscover the form he was in before being injured.

Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Mikel, Ramires; Schurrle, Hazard, Mata; Torres 

ChelseavSouthampton

Southampton

Dejan Lovren, who had missed the trip to Arsenal, is fit again, while Luke Shaw should also be able to shake off the minor knock that he suffered last weekend. Former Chelsea boy Jack Cork and Gaston Ramirez remain doubtful for this fixture. Mauricio Pochettino has the rest of the players at his disposal though.

Pochettino, who also favors a 4-2-3-1 formation, will start with Boruc in goal, with the defence comprising of Clyne (right-back), Shaw (left-back), Lovren and Fonte (centre-backs). Wanyama and Schneiderlin will form the double pivot with Ward-Prowse, Rodriguez and Lallana playing ahead of them. Despite the poor form of Lambert against Arsenal, he should be able to keep his place in the squad against Chelsea.

The most fascinating aspect of Southampton’s game is their relentless pressing, as the front four put enormous pressure on the opposition’s backline, always running and trying to close down the passing channels from the back. In such a scenario, a lot will depend on the performance of Mikel and if the visitors are also able to subdue his effect and put the Nigerian under pressure, the entire Chelsea game can be disrupted. On the other hand, with the Southampton defence and midfield also playing slightly higher up the pitch in order to effectively press Chelsea, the Saints will be vulnerable at the back and players such as Hazard and Schurrle, who are extremely fast, can certainly hurt them, whenever Chelsea manage a quick transition from defence to attack.

Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Boruc; Clyne, Lovren, Fonte, Shaw; Wanyama, Schneiderlin; Ward-Prowse, Rodriguez, Lallana; Lambert

Key Facts

  1. Rickie Lambert scored in both Barclays Premier League appearances against Chelsea last season.
  2. This is Southampton’s best ever start to a Premier League campaign, surpassing the 17 points they had earned after 12 games in 2003-04.
  3. Chelsea have an identical Premier League record this season to the one they had in the opening 12 games under Roberto di Matteo last season (W7 D3 L2) who was sacked after 12 games.
  4. Chelsea have lost none of their last 15 Premier League games at Stamford Bridge (W12 D3 L0).
  5. Chelsea have scored eight goals in the final 15 minutes of matches, more than any other team in the top flight this season.

Statistics courtesy Eurosport.yahoo.com.

Player To Watch Out For

Juan Mata (Chelsea)

Oscar was phenomenal against West Ham last weekend, but against Basel in midweek, he failed to sparkle and is showing signs of tiredness, which is obvious considering the number of games that he has played in the last year and a half.  Mourinho clearly favors him over anyone else in the attacking band, but when you have someone of the caliber of Juan Mata waiting on the sidelines, it’s difficult to imagine why would the manager overuse a player rather than splitting time between the two playmakers. The presence of Mikel, who has managed to reestablish himself in the first team squad again, will balance the less than desired contribution of Mata defensively. The Spaniard is eager to play and even hungrier to prove why he was adjudged Chelsea player of the year for two consecutive seasons, and Southampton need to be vary of him this weekend. This match has a Juan Mata masterclass written all over it.

Prediction

Chelsea 2-0 Southampton

Although Southampton have managed to get good results against Liverpool and Manchester United this season, it’s difficult to imagine two back-to-back poor performances from Jose Mourinho’s team. Chelsea need to win and consistently at that, if they are to sustain their title challenge and a closely fought home win against the fifth placed team is on the cards.

Blast From The Past