Analysis

Focus: How Fabregas' tussle with Romeu will decide Saints-Chelsea

Saints will need their defensive midfielder to shut down the Spaniard's creative potential, explains Alex Keble...

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Fabregas was beginning to look listless and uninterested under Jose Mourinho but the Spaniard is undergoing a mini-revival

Southampton enter this match on a run of 524 minutes without conceding, but Victor Wanyama’s suspension threatens to end this remarkable record – particularly now that Cesc Fabregas is back in form for Chelsea.

Ronald Koeman’s potential problems are exacerbated by the recent ineffectiveness of their long ball football (they have scored just three goals in their last four games) and against aerially dominant defenders they are unlikely to outscore their opponents.

Fabregas was beginning to look listless and uninterested under Jose Mourinho, but the Spaniard is undergoing a mini-revival of late. His one-touch passing was magnificent against Newcastle and Manchester City, reminiscent of his form in the opening period of last season when a flurry of assists gave Chelsea an unassailable lead at the summit of the table.

Across those two matches he created six chances and had 242 touches of the ball. Even more impressive was his intelligence and discipline against PSG when, after months of struggling to understand this role under Mourinho, he held his ground alongside John Obi Mikel and attacked at the correct moments.

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Fabregas' passes vs Newcastle (left) and PSG (right)

Wanyama’s suspension means that Oriol Romeu will start against his former club this weekend. He will be tasked with sitting tight on top of Fabregas to prevent Chelsea from utilising this pathway; when Fabregas is on form, almost every Chelsea attack is channelled through the former Barcelona man's right foot.

Romeu averages 2.5 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per match and has shown, in glimpses, an intelligent understanding of the game; he plays as a traditional destroyer, largely holding the space between defence and midfield. The battle between these two at St Mary's on Saturday afternoon will be fascinating.

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Romeu's defensive dashboard vs Watford (left) and Arsenal (right)

Southampton’s attacking tactics are surprisingly direct given the quality at Koeman’s disposal. They make the fifth most accurate long balls in 2015/16 (31.7 per match) and complete more crosses (6.3 per match) than any other team. The aerial prowess of Shane Long (8.3 aerial duels per game), Graziano Pelle (8.2 per game), Virgil van Dijk (6.3 per game) and Charlie Austin (10.0 per game) is utilised at every opportunity, and helps explain why they have amassed a remarkable 14 assists this season from crosses into the box.

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Southampton's long passes vs Man Utd (left) and aerial duels vs Swansea (right)

John Terry is hoping to pass a late fitness test to start this weekend, but even if he does not make it Chelsea possess two superb headers of the ball in defence; Branislav Ivanovic wins 70% of his headers and Gary Cahill wins 65%. Guus Hiddink will be confident that his team can deal with Southampton’s direct style.

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