Chelsea will be aiming to consolidate their place in the top four when they welcome Southampton to Stamford Bridge in their first game of 2019.
Wednesday will have a bevy of matches on show, as Gameweek 21 of the Premier League continues. Two of the matches will be played out in the capital, with the big game seeing Chelsea play hosts to Southampton at Stamford Bridge, aiming to continue building momentum and reopen their five-point lead over Arsenal.
Maurizio Sarri’s men have banished the bad memories of their shock 2-1 loss at the hands of Leicester City with two close wins. With Arsenal stuttering a bit lately, Chelsea are comfortably clear of their London rivals, although they have some big problems brewing on other fronts.
Southampton, on the other hand, have tailed off somewhat after a promising start to life under Ralph Hasenhuttl. In fairness to the Saints, however, they did face a hurting Manchester City side last time out, and were soundly beaten 3-1. The manager now needs to rally around his players to turn their form around, or risk going into a free fall.
The reverse fixture, play at St. Mary’s in October, saw Chelsea coast to a 3-0 win as the Blues continued their blistering start under Sarri. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Premier League encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Chelsea’s performance levels have taken a serious dip lately, and that reflects in the fact that Maurizio Sarri is facing a major injury crisis. Against Southampton on Wednesday, the Blues boss will be without as many as seven first-team players due to various fitness problems.
The likes of Cesc Fabregas (neck), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (back), Pedro (hamstring) and Callum Hudson-Odoi (hamstring) were already on the treatment table. And, the quartet have been joined by Olivier Giroud (ankle) and forgotten man Danny Drinkwater (knock), with the former’s absence in particular being concerning.
Giroud’s injury, coupled with the absence of Pedro and contract rebel Hudson-Odoi means that Sarri has no choice but to name an attacking trio of Willian, Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata. The Chelsea boss is also stretched for resources in midfield, with Jorginho, N’Golo Kante, Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic the only players available for four slots.
While Jorginho and Kante are certain starters, the final spot in the side should be handed to Kovacic, with Sarri looking to rotate his few available men in a bid to keep them fit. One area where he does have the riches available to him though, is defence.
At the back, the Chelsea boss has every player available to him. But, Sarri is likely to continue with his preferred back four of Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, David Luiz and Marcos Alonso, with the FA Cup fixture in the coming weekend giving him a chance to rotate. Kepa Arrizabalaga is an automatic selection in goal.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic; Willian, Morata, Hazard
Ralph Hasenhuttl has only a few pressing concerns hampering his preparations for the trip to the capital. Against Chelsea on Wednesday, the Southampton boss could be without just three first-team players due to minor injuries.
Ryan Bertrand (back) and Michael Obafemi (hamstring) are certain to miss out, with the duo only likely to return to action next week. Hasenhuttl though, is sweating over the availability of Matt Targett, who is the only other left-back available to him in the absence of Bertrand.
If Targett fails to shrug off a dead leg, Cedric Soares could be recalled, with the Portuguese playing on the left for Southampton previously. On the opposite flank, Yan Valery would hope to be named in the starting lineup once again after the debuting Kayne Ramsey took his place in the defeat to Manchester City.
Interestingly, Hasenhuttl showed first signs of shifting towards his favourable system, as he used a 4-3-2-1 against the Premier League champions. This time around, the Southampton manager could revert to the 3-4-2-1, thanks largely due to the suspension of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who was sent off for a dangerous tackle on Fernandinho last weekend.
The back-three should see Maya Yoshida and Jannik Vestergaard returning to the side, after they were rested against Manchester City. In midfield, Oriol Romeu and Mario Lemina are certain starters, with the former taking over the captain’s armband from the suspended Hojbjerg.
Up ahead in attack, Danny Ings, Stuart Armstrong and Nathan Redmond are all likely to return against Chelsea, after they were given a breather last weekend.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): McCarthy; Bednarek, Yoshida, Vestergaard; Valery, Romeu, Lemina, Cedric; Redmond, Armstrong; Ings
1. Southampton Asian Handicap + 2.0 @ 1.625
2. Over 10.5 Corners @ 1.83
1. Full Time Result – Draw or Southampton @ 3.75
- Chelsea have won each of their last seven games against Southampton in all competitions, scoring two or more goals in six of those.
- Southampton have only won on three of their 19 visits to Stamford Bridge in the Premier League (D5 L11), the most recent being a 3-1 win in October 2015, which was followed by Jose Mourinho’s dismissal as the Chelsea boss not long after.
- Chelsea are playing their first Premier League game of a calendar year at home for the first time since 2013, when they lost 0-1 to QPR thanks to a Shaun Wright-Phillips strike.
- Chelsea will be hoping to avoid losing consecutive home Premier League matches since November 2011. Southampton, on the other hand, can win two away games in a row for the first time since March 2017.
- Southampton have dropped a league-high 15 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season.
Player to Watch
With Maurizio Sarri stretched for resources in attack, Alvaro Morata is all but certain to return to the starting lineup for Chelsea. And, the 90 minutes against Southampton could be the most crucial of his Chelsea career, especially with widespread speculation suggesting that Gonzalo Higuain could be on his way to Stamford Bridge this month.
In effect, Morata is fighting for his future at the club, and a standout performance could help convince Sarri that he is the right man to lead the Chelsea attack for the rest of the season. With Olivier Giroud set for an extended spell on the sidelines, Morata now has a couple of games to showcase his mettle, and it will be interesting to see if the former Real Madrid man can finally make it count at Chelsea.
Chelsea 2-1 Southampton
Chelsea are back to winning ways, but only just, having managed one-goal wins in successive London derbies. It has been a while since the former Premier League champions have stopped playing the eye catching football from the early days of Maurizio Sarri, with the side depending heavily on Eden Hazard.
Southampton, on the other hand, have suffered back-to-back defeats after a positive start to life under Ralph Hasenhuttl. The fact of the matter indeed is that they are just not good enough to sustain high levels of football, and unless the manager gets to bolster his squad this month, they will continue to remain in the relegation dogfight.
The visitors’ defensive struggles mean that Chelsea will be fancying their chances, while the Blues’ own frailties at the back should give Southampton a chance as well. In the end, Sarri’s men will have enough quality to notch up another narrow win, although they are unlikely to score more than twice, something they haven’t done in two months.