Chelsea will be looking for their first win in three games in the Premier League, when they visit the St. Mary’s to take on Southampton this weekend.

Chelsea return to domestic action after their European exploits in the midweek, as they gear up to face off against Mark Hughes’ Southampton on Sunday in matchweek eight of the Premier League.

The Blues come into the game on the back of a narrow 1-0 victory over Vidi FC in the UEFA Europa League earlier this week. But they are without a victory in their last two Premier League fixtures, having been held to consecutive draws by West Ham United and Liverpool.

Considering that Chelsea’s fellow title challengers Liverpool and Manchester City are set to clash on Sunday, the trip to the south coast offers Maurizio Sarri’s men a great chance to reduce the gap between themselves and their rivals,  heading into the second international break of the season.

Southampton, on the other hand, find themselves in a bit of bothersome spot, having just won one of their seven Premier League fixtures this season. The Saints currently occupy the 16th spot in the standings, just three points above the drop zone.

Manager Mark Hughes has a challenge ahead of him to turn things around at the earliest possible. Having lost their last two league encounters against Liverpool and Wolves, Southampton did manage to beat Everton on penalties in the Carabao Cup earlier this week, but they will need to put up a much improved performance if they are to stand a chance against Chelsea.

Team News & Tactics

Southampton

Shane Long is back in training after recovering from a toe injury, along with summer signing Mohamed Elyounoussi. Former Chelsea defender Ryan Bertrand and Alex McCarthy are fit and available for selection, having recovered from minor issues over the week.

Hughes, this season, has generally preferred to use a three-man backline, but there is likely to be a switch-over to a four-man defence on Sunday, with an extra body in the middle of the park, similar to the way Southampton set up against Liverpool.

Summer signing Angus Gunn started the cup game in goal, but will make way for first-choice McCarthy for Chelsea’s visit at the weekend. Shielding the goal in the heart of the defence, will be the defensive duo of Jannik Vestergaard and Wesley Hoedt.

Cedric Soares is an ever-present on the right-side of the defence for the Saints, while the fit again Bertrand will start at left-back against his former club. Going up against the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian, the full-backs will be in for a huge challenge.

Another former Chelsea player, Oriol Romeu, could find himself slotting in as the defensive screen in front of the back four to thwart the Blues’ midfielders from pushing forward. Mario Lemina and in-form midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will provide support in the middle of the park.

Width will be provided by Elyounoussi on the right and Nathan Redmond on the opposite flank. Danny Ings is Southampton’s top scorer this term in the league and should spearhead the attack against the Blues on Sunday.

Probable Starting XI (4-5-1): McCarthy; Cedric, Vestergaard, Hoedt, Bertrand; Elyounoussi, Lemina, Romeu, Hojbjerg, Redmond; Ings; 

Chelsea

Apart from the long-term absentee Marco van Ginkel, Chelsea have a clean bill of health heading into the weekend clash and have no suspension concerns either. Having fielded a much-changed lineup for the European encounter earlier in the week, Sarri is set to recall a number of his first-team regulars for the trip to St. Mary’s.

World’s most expensive goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga will be retained in the starting eleven, as he looks for his fourth clean sheet of the season. At right-back the consistent Cesar Azpilicueta will come into the team, while fellow Spaniard Marcos Alonso will also start on the opposite flank, with Davide Zappacosta and Emerson Palmieri making way.

The regular centre-half partnership of David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger will also come back into the team, in place of Gary Cahill and Andreas Christensen who started in midweek.

Mateo Kovacic has settled in seamlessly into the team and should be retained in the middle of the park, along with the ever-present N’Golo Kante and midfield metronome Jorginho, both of whom did not start in the Europa League victory.

In-form man Eden Hazard will return on the left-side to add the creativity and the incision in the final third for Chelsea, while Willian will shift out to the right-flank with Pedro dropping out of the line-up. Alvaro Morata may have scored the winner on Thursday night, but Olivier Giroud is expected to spearhead the Blues’ attack at St. Mary’s on Sunday.

Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic; Willian, Giroud, Hazard; 

Key Stats

  • Maurizio Sarri could become the sixth manager to remain unbeaten in his first eight Premier League games.
  • Southampton have lost their last six matches against Chelsea in all competitions. They were beaten three times by Chelsea last season, including 3-2 at home in the league – having led 2-0.
  • Chelsea have won nine and lost just one of their last 14 Premier League matches.
  • Saints’ boss Mark Hughes has lost a Premier League record 18 games as a manager against Chelsea.
  • Olivier Giroud has scored five goals in his last four matches against Southampton in all competitions.

Betting Odds

Favourable Bets

  1. Chelsea to win @ 1.61
  2. Olivier Giroud to score anytime @ 2.50
  3. Over 9.5 Corners @ 1.72
  4. Olivier Giroud Over 0.5 Shots on Target @ 1.50

Underdog Bets

  1. Chelsea to win Both Halves @ 4.00

Player to watch

Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Class Act. (Picture Courtesy - AFP/Getty Images)

Class act (Picture Courtesy – AFP/Getty Images)

The Belgian wizard is in the form of his life this season and is playing some scintillating football for Chelsea under Sarri. Hazard is the leading goalscorer in the Premier League this season, having already netted on six occasions and has set up two more in his seven appearances (five starts).

Having been involved for just over half an hour in the midweek game against Vidi, the 27-year old will be relatively fresh and will be raring to go against Southampton. Given how he performed against Liverpool, who have had one of the best defences in the league this season, the Saints will be in a huge spot of bother should the Belgian get going on Sunday.

Prediction

Southampton 0-2 Chelsea

Southampton have had a difficult start to the campaign, but the midweek win over Everton would have given them some confidence boost. However, going up against Chelsea, who are unbeaten this term, since their defeat to Manchester City in the FA Community Shield, will be a different proposition altogether.

The Blues found it tough to break down a resilient Vidi defence earlier in the week, but with Hazard expected to be back in the starting XI, things should go much more smoothly for them in the final third. And, as a result, we at The Hard Tackle, expect them to register an easy win against the Saints at St. Mary’s on Sunday.