Southampton play host to Chelsea at St Mary’s on New Years Day as the second half of the season officially gets under way. 19 games down, 19 to go and Southampton will be hoping to get back to winning ways in this one having won only twice in their last ten games. Chelsea, on the other hand, will be more concerned with maintaining their title challenge.
Southampton enjoyed what was a triumphant start to the season. A quarter of the way through they were comfortably placed in the top four with the best defensive record in the whole of the league. The likes of Lambert, Rodriguez, Lallana, Borcu and Pochettino’s tactical nous impressed greatly, and while there is still a lot to be admired in all of these respects, results have certainly declined. Indeed, whilst there is no doubt that Southampton has a great deal of quality in the squad, many of their wins came at a time when they were matched up against teams now sitting in the bottom half of the table. Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal have all beaten them in the last eight weeks with Southampton failing to pick up more than one win in their other four matches. Now they play Chelsea for the second time this season. It finished 3 – 1 to Chelsea in the original meeting, but with home field advantage now with Southampton an upset could be on the cards.
Whilst Southampton have won only two games in their last ten, Chelsea have only lost two. Moreover the London club have won 6 of their last 8 and will be aiming to extended that to 7 in 9. After a run of games in which Chelsea conceded regularly, the Blues have started to look a little more sturdy at the back. They registered back-to-back clean sheets against Arsenal and Swansea respectively; that was prior to conceding a(nother) scrappy set piece goal against Liverpool. Despite conceding that goal, Chelsea ran out 2 -1 winners and looked reasonably comfortable for the majority of the game. The efficient nature of Mourinho’s tactics, methods that are often describe as defensive, have begun to show in this run. When content with the score the manager has made substitutions with the goal of maintaining the current result, whether that be an away draw against Arsenal or winning by a one goal margin at home. If Chelsea could convert more of the chances that they create though, this would arguably be unnecessary.
- Southampton had only shot on target against Chelsea in the reverse of this fixture – the goal that Rodriguez scored after just 13 seconds.
- 30% of the goals Chelsea have conceded this season have come from set plays, a higher proportion than any other team in the Premier League.
- Jose Mourinho has made 57 substitutions this season which is more than any other Premier League manager.
Adam Lallana is my selection for Southampton’s key man. An exciting English talent for sure, he has played a large role in Southampton’s success. Indeed he has played and completed the most successful forward passes in the team (571), and has also made the most successful final third passes (202). In this way he has become the most creative individual in the team and has created a total of 32 chances for his team mates, 20 of these coming from open play.
His dribbling ability has helped him in this respect, Lallana having attempted 67 dribbles at a success rate of 55%. Furthermore, he provides a certain defensive contribution and has won more ground duels (113) than anybody else. Southampton will need him on top form to upset the odds.
There are a number of candidates for Chelsea’s key player, but given his recent form and that he is one of the only certainties in the starting XI, Eden Hazard is my pick. Like Lallana he has made the most forward passes in the team (730) and the most successful final third passes (397). He is one of the most creative forces in the league let alone in the Chelsea squad, and has produced 47 chances, 42 from open play, and has 4 assists to show for this. Like Lallana again he is a keen dribbler, and has done so with a 59% success rate 114 times.
Significantly he is also Chelsea’s top league scorer with 8 goals, his 65% shooting accuracy helping him to achieve this. He may not have quite hit the heights of last season, but on his current form he isn’t far away.
Southampton have four injuries to concern them. Most significant are Wanyama and Boruc, each likely to be out until mid January. Osvaldo on the other hand has no return date, while Do Prado could return in a week.
Chelsea will be without Frank Lampard (who has scored 4 goals in his last 5 matches against Southampton) after he sustained a muscle injury against Liverpool. Ivanovic too picked up a knee injury in that match, while Bertrand is carrying a knock. Van Ginkel continues rehab for his ruptured ACL.
A close fought match is on the cards, and it is difficult to pick a winner. I will do so however and predict an away win for Chelsea; their quality should be too much.