The FourFourTwo Preview: Chelsea vs Southampton
One final push to the finish – where 1st and 4th place will do very nicely.
- Chelsea 2-2 PSG (CL)
- West Ham 0-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-0 Spurs (LC)
- Chelsea 1-1 Burnley (Prem)
- PSG 1-1 Chelsea (CL)
- So’ton 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- WBA 1-0 So’ton (Prem)
- So’ton 0-2 Liverpool (Prem)
- So’ton 0-0 West Ham (Prem)
- QPR 0-1 So’ton (Prem)
In the aftermath of Chelsea’s petulant and generally hopeless Champions League exit at the hands, feet and alleged elbows of 10-man PSG, Jose Mourinho reminded his players to remain focussed on the big prize. “We have a Premier League to win,” he told them. “I told that to the players,” he confirmed.
“There's no time to cry. No time also to laugh. Winning the Premier League and the Capital One Cup: that would still be a fantastic season for us. We move forward."
In many ways, nothing much has changed. The Champions League would have been an unexpected bonus in a season where the Premier League was always the priority.
With 11 games and 33 points left, they remain five clear of their only challengers, a stuttering and stalling Manchester City. Five points could be cut to two if City beat Burnley on Saturday, but it could also become an eight-point lead if City lose and Chelsea win. The problem is, the way both teams are playing, either scenario is entirely possible so we don’t have a clue.
If this game had come six months ago, even when Southampton were in far better form than they are now, we’d have known almost for sure that Chelsea would prevail. But of late, the Premier League leaders have lost their way.
The once metronomic Cesc Fabregas looks shot, as he so often does as the season progresses, and after nine assists in his first nine games of the season he now has none in the last nine. Diego Costa is the league’s joint-top goalscorer, yet he hasn’t scored since Swansea away on January 17.
With two of their key components stuttering, Chelsea’s early-season élan has been replaced by a collective grind, stealing a goal and relying more on their rearguard to safeguard the points.
Sometimes it works, as at West Ham. Sometimes, when the petulant streak they’ve shown over recent games clouds their judgement, it doesn’t, as against Burnley.
Since their own early-season élan swept them to second in the table in October, Southampton have also lost their way a little, and their Champions League charge looks to be running out of juice.
Currently seventh, and now four points off fourth place as Liverpool, Tottenham and even Manchester United have applied the gas, the Saints appear to be travelling in reverse.
The pretty passing blueprint was still in evidence against Liverpool, West Brom and West Ham, but no goals and just a single point in those games told its own tale.
Indeed, at the point Sadio Mané dinked a quick-witted winner over a sprawling Julian Speroni against Crystal Palace, Ronald Koeman’s men had gone 387 minutes without a home goal.
Having scored 10 in 12 at the start of the season, one-time saviour Graziano Pellè now has one in his last 12, or three in his last 23 in all competitions if you take the time to count back to illustrate a point. His struggle personifies Southampton’s problems, which may or may not get worse on Sunday.
Although every single Chelsea player appeared to be nursing some hammed-up injury at some stage of the defeat to PSG, they appear to have escaped relatively unscathed. John Mikel Obi was and remains their only long-term injury doubt and is not expected back until April. By contrast, Southampton have had 10 days off to rest their weary limbs and their only injury issues concern long-term absentees Emmanuel Mayuka (groin/hip/pelvic bit) and Jay Rodriguez (ACL), neither of whom will be back in time for this one.
Player to watch: Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Nemanja Matic is fast becoming Chelsea’s most influential player, the man whose tireless work-rate and shielding of the defence just became more appreciated, particularly against the better teams. Here, though, we’ll opt for the man most likely to create and score in recent games.
Against West Ham, Hazard scored the game’s only goal, with his clever head of all things. He also had more shots (4), created more chances (4) and made more successful passes (43/48) than any of his team-mates. Crucially for Chelsea, and unlike others, his powers have not yet waned.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Saints 1-1 Chelsea (PL, Dec 14)
- 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)
Having witnessed a remarkably directionless display against PSG, one more notable for the dark arts his players employed than for any moments of quality, Mourinho was asked if he felt humiliated. He gave a shrug and offered a little perspective.
“I didn't steal. I don't go to jail. I lost a football match. Now I want to play Sunday.” His opposite number, Koeman, took his players off on a team bonding trip to Switzerland after the Crystal Palace game, where he too looked forwards rather than back.
“It’s a big achievement what we have until now,” he said, while dressed in an ice hockey kit. “There are still 10 games and we know we will fight until the last second to keep the highest position in the table possible.”
Facts and figures
- Sadio Mané has scored in 5 of his last 7 Premier League starts.
- Eden Hazard has scored 2 Premier League goals against Southampton, both in the 45th minute.
- Chelsea have lost just 1 of their last 11 Premier League games against Southampton (W6 D4 L1).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Impossible to say for sure, obviously, but if pushed, a result that helps neither side much. 1-1.