Premier League | St Mary's | Sun 28 Dec | 2:05pm
Not the game we once hoped it could be.
- Palace 1-3 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 3-0 Everton (Prem)
- Sheff Utd 1-0 So'ton (LC)
- Burnley 1-0 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 1-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-0 West Ham (Prem)
- Stoke 0-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Derby 1-3 Chelsea (LC)
- Chelsea 2-0 Hull (Prem)
- Chelsea 3-1 Sporting (CL)
Not all that long ago, some excitable sorts had this down as a game between the Premier League’s top two. Southampton’s remarkable start to the season under Ronald Koeman, allied with Manchester City’s heavy-legged August and September, had those people wondering excitedly if Chelsea’s closest challengers would somehow be the Saints. And how their hearts leapt at the romance of it all!
Only then came five successive defeats for Southampton, which began with the 0-3 at home to Man City and ended with the 0-1 League Cup catastrophe at League One Sheffield United.
Suddenly, such romantic notions of a title chase were cast aside and this game wasn’t quite as significant as some believed it might be.
Indeed, it’s become just another game on Chelsea’s slow charge towards the title. Game number 19 of 38 to be ticked off, and the last this side of the New Year.
We know, of course, that on the previous two occasions Jose Mourinho had guided Chelsea to the top spot at Christmas, he went on to win the title – in 2004/05 and 2005/06 – and it’s difficult to see how he won’t make it a hat-trick in 2014/15, even if City have finally woken from their slumber.
Mourinho has built the most complete team at work in the Premier League this season, with a very convincing blend of balance, imagination, pace and steel, not to mention a willingness to dive atrociously at the drop of a hat.
They also boast the sort of strength in depth that separates the big boys at the very top from the next-level teams like Southampton.
The Saints remain aesthetically impressive but their lack of depth was always going to catch them out at some stage, although few could have seen those five successive defeats coming. They’ve steadied the ship with a revised 3-5-2 formation and impressive wins at home to Everton and away at Crystal Palace, and the confidence is slowly starting to return.
So, while this game may not be quite as significant as those excitable sorts may once have claimed, it should at the very least be very easy on the eye.
Neither side has any fresh injury worries ahead of this game, though Southampton left-back Ryan Bertrand is ineligible to face his parent club. Saints should welcome back captain Jose Fonte after his one-match ban for a fifth yellow card of the season against Everton, while Dusan Tadic will be expecting to make the starting line-up, having recuperated on the bench at Palace after injury. Chelsea’s main and indeed only real worry had been Eden Hazard, who hobbled off after being ‘Stoked’ in the 2-0 win. But the fact he played the full 90 minutes against West Ham suggests he’s suffered no lasting damage.
Player to watch: Morgan Schneiderlin (Saints)
In Friday's win at Palace, the Frenchman put in the type of busy, buzzing, energetic performance that illustrates why Arsenal and Spurs are batting their eyelids at him. Topping the stats for the most passes (54), most ball recoveries (7), most tackles (5), most interceptions (2) and most chances created (2), Schneiderlin showed his importance to the team once again. Obviously that was only against Palace, and he’ll need to do all of that and much more if Southampton are to have any chance of taking anything from Chelsea.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Saints 0-3 Chelsea (PL, Jan 14)
- Chelsea 3-1 Saints (PL, Dec 13)
- Saints 2-1 Chelsea (PL, Mar 13)
- Chelsea 2-2 Saints (PL, Jan 13)
- Saints 1-5 Chelsea (FAC, Jan 13)
Having seen his team win 13 of their 17 games this season to lead the Premier League at Christmas for the first time in five years, Mourinho declared it well deserved.
“I think Chelsea deserve to be top of the league. Chelsea deserve to be top of the league,” he said, twice, to emphasise his point. Ominously, Mourinho believes his team to be stronger than last season, when they arguably should have won the title.
“We are a better team. We have more creativity, more goals, more attacking dynamic,” he said. A routine 2-0 win over West Ham made it 14 wins from 18 and won’t have made him reconsider those claims.
Koeman was equally ebullient ahead of the Palace victory, preferring to focus on the bigger picture than the past few weeks. “At the start of the season, if they had shown me a piece of paper to sign that said we would be fifth in the competition at Christmas I would have said ‘OK’,” he said, before casting his gaze to this game.
“For everybody Chelsea are the biggest test. In my opinion they are the best team in the Premier League until now, but we believe in ourselves and it will be a great game.”
Facts and figures
- The 5 previous Premier League games at St Mary’s between Christmas and New Year have yielded just 6 goals.
- Chelsea have faced Southampton 6 times before between Christmas and New Year in the Premier League (W2 D2 L2).
- Cesc Fabregas is only the third player in Premier League history to rack up double figures for assists in 5 separate seasons (joining Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
And on they roll: Southampton 0-2 Chelsea.
Back 0-2 at 15/2 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication