Monday, 24 April 2017

Chelsea vs Southampton Match Preview (25/04/17): Blues to Continue Momentum on Home Soil

Without gloating, there was something extra special about Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final; a victory which kept alive our hopes of a historic double this term.

It wasn’t so much the nature of the performance, which was very un-Chelsea like with the boys happy to play on the back foot and counter attack, but the fact that they beat a rampant Tottenham side without the likes of Gary Cahill, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa.

Cahill is suffering from gastroenteritis at the moment, and as anybody that has endured that particular ailment can testify it’s a rather nasty business. Whether the England man plays against Southampton on Tuesday night depends on how well he feels on the day, presumably.

Conte deserves credit for his bravery in benching Hazard and Costa. Even in the afterglow of a satisfactory victory it still feels like a bizarre decision, but then Hazard’s replacement, Willian, netted twice before the Belgian himself came off the substitutes bench to fire home the third. Nemanja Matic’s outstanding strike thereafter was merely the icing on the cake.

Hazard himself lauded Conte’s ‘great decision.’ He told the BBC: “The manager told me yesterday,” he said. “You know you have to expect everything in football. When you play football you want to play every game, but I think he did a great choice.

“He put in Willian, Willian scored the two first goals so it's good for us."

How Costa feels about being ‘rested’ is anybody’s guess. The Spaniard has been a little off colour of late, and while Michy Batshuayi offers a great physical presence in attack you suspect that, at this moment in time, he needs to sharpen up his movement in front of goal if he is to be the latest in a long line of prolific Chelsea strikers.

All in all it was a very satisfactory weekend’s work, but the players must hit the ground running immediately with a league outing against Southampton on Tuesday to consider. With just four points the gap to Spurs with six games to go, bagging the three points at the Bridge is a necessity.

Chelsea Team News

Saturday’s victory has given Conte plenty of food for thought as far as his team selection is concerned. Will he go with the same even that started the win over Spurs?

You would have thought not, and Hazard will surely come back into the side given how well he has been playing of late and how well he took the decision to bench him in the first instance.

Every point could count in this Premier League run in, and so there is no room for sentimentality. As such, expect Costa to come back in for Batshuayi; with a disclaimer that the Spaniard must start finding the net on a regular basis again, and let his feet do the talking rather than running his mouth off at the opposition players, the referee and anybody else in earshot for that matter.

Cahill will surely come in if fit, but there is no harm in fielding Nathan Ake at centre back again if not. He looked very assured in tackling Harry Kane and co.

Chelsea vs Southampton Head to Head

Generally, Chelsea have enjoyed the best of things against the Saints. They have won eleven of their last twenty meetings, with five draws and four defeats.

In that timeframe there has been nine meetings at Stamford Bridge, and Chelsea have come away from those with a W4 D3 L2 record.

In the past two years the Blues have just about took the spoils with two wins, a draw and a defeat, and their last encounter on October 30 ended in a 2-0 win for the Blues courtesy of goals from messrs Hazard and Costa.

How the Match Will Be Won

What is interesting about Southampton’s recent form is that they are adequate in dealing with the Premier League’s weaker sides (Watford, Crystal Palace and Swansea) but tend to struggle against the elite (defeats to Manchester City, Tottenham and Everton). So how will Chelsea win this game? By turning up!

Okay, that’s a gross exaggeration. The Saints are a much better side than that suggests, and particularly in midfield with the likes of James Ward-Prowse, Jordie Clasie and Chelsea old boy Oriel Romeu they have industry, tenacity and no shortage of quality.

The key men for Southampton are Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic, who will start wide but drift infield as the mood takes. So Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses will need to keep their wits about them and communicate well with Matic and N’Golo Kante in picking those guys up.

The attack minded nature of Tadic and Redmond offers Alonso and Moses an opportunity in attack; they may well spend plenty of time on the front foot and unoccupied. That could lead to some tasty overloads in conjunction with Hazard and Pedro/Willian on either flank against the Saints’ full backs.

Southampton miss Virgil van Dijk massively. The club captain is a fantastic ball playing centre half and a physical presence too; essential in stopping Diego Costa from playing. We’re not convinced that Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens offer the same level of expertise.

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