Friday, 28 October 2016

Southampton v Chelsea Match Preview (30/10/16): Blues Confidence High Ahead of Tough Saints Trip

Well, that’ll do nicely. Last Sunday’s clash with Manchester United was always going to be overshadowed by the return of Jose Mourinho to Stamford Bridge for the first time since his sacking, but Blues fans will note with relish just how well the side played in that 4-0 victory.

The 3-4-3 system deployed by Antonio Conte is working a treat, as a third consecutive clean sheet – backed by nine goals scored – attests. The extra body in the heart of defence has added security, with Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses on the flanks delivering both from a defensive and attacking perspective.

The extra defender enables Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante to maraud forward too – the Frenchman bagged the fourth, and Eden Hazard is afforded the luxury of a free role in the attacking third without having to worry about tracking back. How long will it be before other clubs are switching to this formation?

Let’s not beat about the bush; Pedro’s opener after 30 seconds changed the whole complexion of the game before it had even properly begun. But that should not detract from a thoroughly professional display from that point onwards.

A trickier task awaits this week in the form of a trip to the south coast to take on Southampton on Sunday tea time, and with the Saints unbeaten in five they are clearly going to take some beating.

Chelsea Team News

When things are going well and you are building momentum, the dream scenario is to continue the run by naming an unchanged side week in, week out if possible. The good news for Conte is that his squad is, largely, injury free.

While Cesc Fabregas and Branislav Ivanovic recover from minor injuries, the reality is that neither would have troubled the Chelsea starting eleven right now anyway. John Terry is fit again and Willian has returned from compassionate leave following the death of his mother, but in truth why would Conte change his team following three comfortable victories?

Southampton vs Chelsea Head to Head

The first fixture between these two sides occurred in 1966, which was a good year for English football if memory serves, and there has been a further 66 Southampton vs Chelsea encounters in the meantime for a nice bit of symmetry.

The Blues have largely had the upper hand with 30 wins to 19, and in the past decade Chelsea have edged things W4 D3 L2.

For matches played on the south coast between the pair, Chelsea’s record is still handsome enough at W15 D9 L10, and they have taken to life at St Marys rather nicely – lucky really, since the Blues took on Southampton in the first competitive match at the ground in August 2001. They have lost just once at the replacement for the Dell in nine visits (six wins, two draws).

How the Match Will Be Won

When this Chelsea set-up plays against a side with two attacking wingers who aren’t keen on the defensive side of their duty, the Blues really should prosper. And that’s exactly what they will face at St Marys if Claude Puel sticks with his preferred frontline of Charlie Austin through the middle and Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond either side of him.

Tadic and Redmond will be required to track back with Alonso and Moses; if they don’t, that will mean either Steven Davis or Jordy Clasie having to come across to cover. That would be disastrous for the Saints as that would open up pockets of space for Hazard and Pedro just in front of their back four, and we know what that pair are capable of when in possession.

It could be a tough afternoon’s work for Diego Costa as he comes up against a pair of defenders who, in many pundits’ eyes, are the most complete centre-half partnership in the division in Jose Fonte and Virgil Van Dijk, but the Spaniard may get some joy if he drifts out to the Saints’ left hand side. Their two first-choice left backs, Ryan Bertrand and Matt Targett, are struggling with injury, and that may mean that young Sam McQueen, a winger by trade, will have to fill in again.

Can Southampton trouble Chelsea at the other end of the pitch? You wouldn’t expect much to come from the middle of the park, with Davis tasked with getting forward to support Austin; an outstanding finish; but not somebody that has the pace to get in behind. That makes the through ball a no go.

The Saints’ real strength is in wide areas, with Tadic and Redmond both enjoying fantastic campaigns to date. Moses and Alonso will be pressed into marking them, mostly, although the safety net of Cesar Azpilicueta, who is capable of defending in wide areas, will give Moses a helping hand in dealing with Tadic. Should he shuffle inside then Kante will be there to pick up the pieces.

Southampton have dropped points at St Marys to both Sunderland and Watford, scraped past Swansea and defeated a Burnley side shorn of their main attacking outlet in away fixtures; the pace of Andre Gray. So this will be their first real test on home soil, and with Chelsea buzzing from successive victories you would have to fancy the boys in blue notching their fourth straight win here.

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