Southampton – Chelsea (Premier League)
Chelsea’s first match of 2014 will be a visit to St. Mary’s Stadium to face Southampton. The accumulation of December’s fixtures is hard on everyone but some squads have fewer arguments to fight it. Ivanovic and Lampard are out? In goes Cole and Ramires. The Saints don’t have that luxury.
The Saints are now 9th in the table, with 27 points, 4 above Hull City and 6 behind Newcastle United. Mauricio Pocchetino’s squad hit the ground running this Premier League Season. In early November they were 3rd in the table and the talk of the town. The team was young, talented, well organized and motivated. Southampton’s boys – Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert – received Roy Hodgson’s call to play for England. Since then reality kicked in. They are still all that but the Saints don’t have a roster deep enough to go through December’s maddening run of fixtures, without suffering heavy blows. Add to the amount of games the quality of the opposition and, quite honestly, would be nearly impossible to do more than they have. So they have only two victories for their last 10 matches. Right. But they’ve faced Arsenal, Chelsea, City, Newcastle, Tottenham and Everton, all teams of the top-half of the League.
Pocchetino had to resort to the squad’s third goalkeeper, Paulo Gazzaniga, after the other two got injured. The Argentinian conceded 10 hits in 6 League appearances. Against Everton, the Manager brought in veteran Kelvin Davies and he should maintain the spot. Morgan Schneiderlin returns from suspension. Osvaldo is ill and should miss out. Guly, Wanyama and Boruc are long-term absentees.
Probable line-up: Davies – Clyne, Lovren, Fonte, Shaw – Schneiderlin, Cork – Rodriguez, Ramirez, Lallana – Lambert.
The clash against Liverpool on Sunday was probably Chelsea‘s best performance of the season so far. Every man on the pitch did what was supposed to, with flying colours. Mourinho was right to praise his players for it. Three minutes into the game Martin Skrtel netted but the Blues did not quiver. They’ve showed an intensity that was missing from many of their ties. They had that resolve to win that so characterizes Mourinho’s teams and each and every one knew precisely what to do to make it happen. So much so that the absence of Ramires, out for suspension, was hardly noticeable. Lampard was keeping the team in position, William was flawless, Oscar appeared when was most needed. And the inspiration of Eden Hazard did the rest. It is possible Mourinho rotates some of the players, starting Mata, Schurrle or Torres, all spared last weekend.
Chelsea won six of their last eight League ties and are sitting in third with 40 points, 2 behind Arsenal, 1 behind Manchester City and 4 clear of Everton. Despite the bumpy road they’re hanging on to the tittle contest.
The heavy schedule left his mark on Branislav Ivanovic and Frank Lampard. Apparently nothing serious but they’re unlikely to be fit for Southampton. Ramires is back from suspension and should come in for David Luiz who received a one game ban.
Probable line-up: Petr Cech – Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry, Cole – Mikel, Ramires – Schurrle, Mata, Hazard – Torres.
In the last year the two sides met 4 times. In half of those Chelsea got the better over Southampton, the Saints were victorious once and they’ve reached a stalemate. At Stamford Bridge, exactly one month ago to the day, the Blues beat the Saints 3-1, coming from behind. Jay Rodriguez open the score in the very first minute of the match but two centre-backs – Cahill and Terry – and one substitute striker – Demba Ba – did the rest.