Chelsea head to Southampton on Saturday in a crunch game for both sides’ respective Premier League ambitions. The Blues sit third, a point clear of Tottenham in the race for the automatic Champions League berth, but will know only too well the threat Southampton pose at St Mary’s, after they brushed aside Liverpool 3-1 in the last round of fixtures. Automatic qualification will be on Chelsea’s radar on Saturday; so too the small matter of their FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United on Monday.
That second-leg tie at Stamford Bridge will inevitably hinder Rafael Benitez’s preparations given it falls less than 48 hours later. In fact, Chelsea are scheduled to play four times in eight days – including their Europa League tie with Rubin Kazan and Premier League clash with Sunderland next Sunday. Benitez may look to the likes of Yossi Benayoun, Marko Marin, Victor Moses and Oscar to freshen up his line-up, while strikers Fernando Torres and Demba Ba will have to share the workload up front.
Frank Lampard has scored in five of his past seven Premier League games, allaying fears the club will stand by their decision not to table a new deal. He is in a rich vein of form and will look to lift his side on the road, but there can be no underestimating the task at St Mary’s, where Saints have played some terrific football this season, also beating champions Manchester City 3-1 in February.
Southampton clawed their way back to secure a 2-2 draw last time the sides met at Stamford Bridge in January, just days before Nigel Adkins was unceremoniously dumped as manager. Worryingly for Southampton, precociously talented left-back Luke Shaw protested his love for Chelsea on Twitter during the week but the club will be hoping he honours the five-year deal he signed earlier in the season. He will line up in red for Southampton, who can put further breathing space between themselves and the bottom three with more points on Saturday.
Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Jos Hooiveld are all dealing with knocks. The trio will be assessed ahead of the St Mary’s clash, although manager Mauricio Pochettino hopes they will all be fit to feature. Vegard Forren could make his Saints debut, having started Norway’s World Cup qualifier against Albania.
John Terry is available for Chelsea but manager Rafael Benitez will select with one eye on Monday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United. Benitez said it is “impossible” for players to peak twice in 48 hours so some rotation of the side is inevitable and Terry, after a season disrupted by a knee injury, is only likely to start one of them. Chelsea’s interim manager reported a clean bill of health following the international break and he is hopeful that Ramires (Achilles) and Gary Cahill (knee) could be fit for Monday.
Mauricio Pochettino: “I have played against Torres many times and he scored some goals against me. I remember him being a quality player, full of strength and a player who knew which spaces to run into to create chances. Sometimes it happens where a player is comfortable and feels happy at a certain club as he was at Atletico and at Liverpool. But when you leave that club and join a new team maybe you do not feel as comfortable and as happy and that can affect your performances. I do not know if Torres will leave Chelsea but what is clear is there is no doubting his quality.”
Rafael Benitez: “The most difficult one will be these two games (coming up) because they are so close. It is better to have this problem than be at home watching it on the telly because it means you are still competing. We have to ensure we have a competitive team against Southampton and a competitive team against United. We have to manage the squad carefully.”
Projected Lineups :
Clyne, Yoshida, Fonte, Shaw
Rodriguez, Ramirez, Lallana
Azpilicueta, Luiz, Terry, Cole
Oscar, Mata, Moses
Key Stats :
- Chelsea are unbeaten in their last seven Premier League games against Southampton (W4 D3).
- Frank Lampard has scored four goals in his last four Premier League appearances against Southampton.
- After netting his 200th Chelsea goal in his last match for the Blues, Lampard is only two away from Bobby Tambling’s all-time Chelsea goal record (202).
- Demba Ba has scored three goals from four shots on target for Chelsea against Southampton in all competitions this season.
- Only three players have created the most goalscoring chances from open play in the top five European Leagues than Rickie Lambert (62).
- Morgan Schneiderlin has made more tackles (121) and interceptions (112) than any other player in the Premier League this term.
- Juan Mata is the only Premier League player to have reach double figures for goals (10) and assists (10) this season.
- Chelsea have scored the first goal of the game on 19 occasions this season; a Premier League high.
- Eden Hazard has had a hand in six goals (four goals, two assists) in his last seven Premier League appearances for Chelsea.
- Chelsea have conceded a league-high proportion (70%) of their goals in the second half of matches this season. Their tally of goals conceded in the first half (9) is a Premier League low.
Chelsea have a good record against Southampton in our last 7 PL games (4W, 3D) and have beaten them already at Saint Mary’s in FA Cup action early in January. With our very tight schedule approaching, it’s going to be interesting how we do, but with a top 4 finish being the top priority – I expect Chelsea to go for all 3 points to maintain our 3rd place position, but Southampton won’t make it easy : 2-1 Chelsea.