St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton
December 28, 2014; 14:05 GMT
League leaders Chelsea travel down south to St. Mary’s Stadium, home of over-achieving Southampton. Hardly anyone expected Southampton to hold on to their top-4 spot, come mid-season time, even when they got their season off to a flying start. If the law of averages did catch up with them, they’ve certainly managed to weather it better than anyone thought they could. But with Arsenal, West Ham and Tottenham within breathing distance and Liverpool too capable of challenging them, if the Kop manages to string together a set of results, Southampton will be wary of conceding any more ground any time soon.
Team News & Tactical Brief
After four consecutive losses, in a barren stint that stretched from the end of November for most of December, Southampton have finally returned to winning ways. But not without room for concern, as to why a team that plays a terrific, uplifting underdog brand of football capitulated to bigger name teams so easily.
Ryan Bertrand, currently on loan to the Saints, will not be available to play against his original club and will, in all likelihood be replaced by Matthew Targett. The Saints have also been handed a boost by the return of captain Jose Fonte, whose leadership will come in handy against a relentless Chelsea side.
Long and Pelle will likely be tasked with staying near Chelsea’s back four, to deal with long balls intended to surprise Chelsea’s defense. It seems unlikely, given the Saints’ midfield-heavy approach, the strikers will be asked to depute in the center of the pitch too. Davis and Schneiderlin will have the unenviable task of keeping track of the irrepressible Eden Hazard on the left flank.
Tadic will likely move from his preferred left-midfield spot, and be asked to play in the hole, and is likely to be entrusted with harrying Cesc Fabregas. Alderweild and Targett may find it relatively easier to deal with Willian, whose lack of accuracy in the final third offsets his tireless running, than a fresh and raring-to-go Andre Schurrle.
Probable Line-up: Forster (GK), Clyne, Fonte, Alderweireld, Targett, Davis, Schneiderlin, Wanyama, Tadic, Long, Pelle
Jose Mourinho will likely see this game as a chance to roll out his lesser-used players. Mikel may start the game instead of Oscar, while Matic will be expected to start the game considering Chelsea don’t seem to perform well in his absence.
Petr Cech may start in goal and Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic and Azpilicueta will give the back four a familiar look to it. The biggest change to the forward line will likely come in the form of Andre Schurrle, who has spent far too long on Chelsea’s bench. His running, tracking back and general exuberance may be just short of Willian’s but his eye for a pass and incision is far ahead of that of the Brazilian.
Diego Costa will start up front, with Didier Drogba to come on as a late substitute. Mourinho will be tempted to play the Ivorian, but given that Fonte is back in the lineup and a renowned organizer of men, the younger Costa will be entrusted with leading Chelsea’s offensive charge.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Luis; Matic, Fabregas, Mikel; Hazard, Willian; Costa
- Chelsea have lost only one single game this season – which explains their current, precarious 3-point lead over City
- Southampton have taken points off of Chelsea twice in recent times – a draw and a win in the 2013 calendar year
- The Blues still have the lead in the head-to-head record with 38 wins over the Saints’ 29 wins
- Mourinho has not lost a domestic title in which his team lead the standings at Christmas time
Player To Watch Out For
John Terry (Chelsea)
With Mourinho confirming that Terry’s one-year contract extension is now nothing but a formality, the skipper has one less thing on his mind to worry about. That should give the Saints some serious worry, because Terry has been leaving quite an impression during his last few games. Scoring an imperious header against Stoke, while also slotting in the first against West Ham. While Chelsea have beaten the Saints in their past two encounters, the losses to them in the previous seasons will surely be on Terry’s mind. It will be up to the captain to keep his men from getting Manchester City any closer.
Southampton 1-2 Chelsea
The match is expected to be a keenly fought away game for the Blues, but Chelsea have the depth to eventually see off the Saints’ spirited challenge.