chelsea logoFC_Southampton_(c)_en(dot)wikipedia(dot)orgCHELSEA

vs

SOUTHAMPTON

Stamford Bridge, London

15 March 2015 1330 UTC

Jose Mourinhoa s wounded Chelsea side host Premier League surprise-package Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Sunday hoping to consolidate their position on the domestic front in the wake of their Champions League Round of 16 exit at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain.

A month that started with the first piece of silverware for the Blues since Mourinhoa s return to the club hit a sobering road-block on Wednesday night as Chelsea put in one of their worst performances of the season, going down deservedly to Laurent Blanca s PSG side. Whilst it has been a successful season so far for Chelsea, the Portuguese boss acknowledged in his press conference ahead of the game that his teama s performance levels have dropped relative to the start of the season; indeed, the apparent lethargy in the game against PSG is a possible indication that this team is running on fumes and is in need of some freshening up to make that final push for the league title.

Southampton have had a remarkable season under Dutch manager Ronald Koeman, exceeding all expectations, and doing so in style. Despite falling out of the reckoning for a top four finish this season with their somewhat patchy form of late, a Europa League spot is still very much within their reach. Koemana s side had a different European adventure than their opponents on Sunday a a mid-season mini-holiday to Switzerland to recharge the batteries and prepare for the final ten games of the season. It will be a refreshed Southampton side that goes to Stamford Bridge on Sunday, knowing that this is probably as good a time as any to face the league leaders away from home.

Team News and Tactics

Chelsea

Mourinho is likely to make changes to the team that started the second-leg against PSG with Kurt Zouma and Willian potentially replacing Gary Cahill and Ramires respectively. Mikel is the only player in the squad who remains unavailable due to injury (knee), whilst there are no suspensions for the Blues. Costa has failed to find the back of the net since the 5-0 win against Swansea in January, but is expected to continue up front, whilst an out-of-form Fabregas is also expected to retain his place in the side.

Kurt Zouma has risen in stature considerably since these two sides last met, and his pace could be crucial against the likes of Sadio Mane, who will be looking to make runs in behind the Chelsea defence and exploit John Terrya s lack of pace; indeed, that is how Southamptona s goal came about in the 1-1 draw at St.Marya s earlier in the season. The young French centre-half has proven himself against quick forwards, and will be important in terms of providing cover for Terry if needed, as well as tracking Manea s runs down the channels or deeper into midfield.

Chelsea were in total control in the second half of the game at St. Marya s, and achieved that degree of control by effectively taking out Southamptona s midfield from the game, continually bypassing their attempts at pressing high up the pitch until their defensive line was forced to retreat. That will be the home sidea s plan again for this game, with Oscar, Willian and Costa pressing high and taking time away from the Saintsa defenders and defensive midfielders a essentially giving Southampton a taste of their own medicine. The Blues will also be hoping to exploit the oppositiona s high line during counter-attacks with balls over the top from the likes of Fabregas for Hazard and Costa. Whether Chelsea have the physical and mental strength to play positive, proactive football against Southampton after the game in midweek remains to be seen.

Predicted line-up (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas; Hazard, Oscar, Willian; Costa.

Southampton

Jay Rodriguez (knee) remains a long-term injury absentee for Southampton, but the Saints’ manager has no new injury worries ahead of the lunchtime Sunday kick-off. Ryan Bertrand is in line to make his first Premier League appearance against former employers Chelsea after making his move to Southampton permanent in January this year, whilst Toby Alderweireld could be in line for his return from injury to take Yoshidaa s place alongside Jose Fonte at the heart of the Saints’ defence.

As they have done all season, Southampton will try and press high up the pitch and win possession in the opposition half, pushing up their defensive line and effectively squeezing the game in their attacking third. Bertrand and Clyne have ventured forward with regularity throughout the season, and the Saints can exploit the wide areas a particularly on Chelseaa s left, with Azpilicueta more or less the sole defensive presence on that flank (despite Hazarda s improved defensive work-rate), and thus vulnerable to being caught in a two on one situation with Clyne overlapping.

Koeman has a willing runner in Sadio Mane a someone who is capable of dragging the Chelsea defence out of position with his runs down the channel, exploiting the space that Blues’ right-back Branislav Ivanovic vacates when he forays into the attacking third. Chelsea have been vulnerable against pace throughout the season, most evident in the 5-3 defeat at White Hart Lane in January, and Southampton will look to play the ball quickly between the lines a in behind the pivot of Fabregas and Nemanja Matic a in a bid to run at the Chelsea defence. Given the home sidea s mysterious defensive malaise causing them to concede headed goals of late (five of the last seven goals conceded in all competitions have been headers), Koeman will be tempted to bring on the likes of James Ward-Prowse and Dusan Tadic to try and make set-pieces count. In many ways, this is the perfect time for Southampton to get points at Stamford Bridge, and the European hopefuls will look to make life even more difficult for Jose Mourinho come Sunday afternoon.

Possible line-up (4-3-3): Forster; Clyne, Fonte, Alderweireld, Bertrand; Wanyama, Schneiderlin, Davis; Elia, Mane, Pelle.

Key Facts

  • Chelsea is the only professional club in all of Englanda s football league divisions to have not lost a game at home this season.
  • The Blues have 16 clean sheets in their last 21 Premier League games at Stamford Bridge, conceding just seven goals in the process.
  • Southampton have only managed to score two goals in their last six Premier League outings.
  • Jose Fonte has made more interceptions (81) than any other player in the Premier League this season.

Key Man

Eden Hazard

Hazard will be the key for Chelsea to keep the visiting Saints at bay

Hazard will be the key for Chelsea to keep the visiting Saints at bay

The Belgiana s form has been the one reassuring constant in Chelseaa s topsy-turvy run of late. Chelseaa s No. 10 has been at his mesmeric best, assisting or scoring 10 Premier League goals in his last 12 games. With Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa not quite hitting the heights they did earlier this season, Hazard has taken it upon himself to drive Chelseaa s attack, and is likely to cause Southampton all sorts of problems when the two sides meet on Sunday. His personal battle against Clyne, one of the leaguea s best right-backs this term, might be key in the final outcome of the game.

Prediction

Chelsea 1 a 0 Southampton

Chelsea will be looking to respond following their disappointing early exit from the Champions League, and a narrow victory is on the cards against a Southampton side that is struggling to score goals of late.