League leaders Chelsea will look to extend their lead at the top of the table when they welcome Southampton to a floodlit Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night.
Antonio Conte and Chelsea will be bouncing off their impressive win against rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup semi-final against Wembley, keeping their chances of securing another historic double in the Italian’s debut season very much alive. But the focus will now be back on extending their lead to further up the pressure on the lone challengers Tottenham Hotspur – and should be aiming to put their most recent league defeat to Manchester United behind and accelerate that push to their sixth league title – and a fifth in the last fifteen years.
For Southampton, there is not a lot to play for at this stage of the season. They sit ninth in the league with 40 points on board – four points shy of West Bromwich Albion with 2 games in hand. As a place in the next year’s Europa League is virtually out of their reach now, the Saints need to keep themselves motivated ahead of the run-in to avoid dropping any lower. They have had a mixed season under Puel – a disappointing Europa League campaign, a cup final defeat in March in addition to an unimpressive showing in the league although that could change if they were able to string a good run of results starting come Tuesday.
Gary Cahill missed the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham due to illness and could be a doubt once again. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are expected to be restored in the starting XI but Conte faces a selection dilemma with Pedro and Willian battling for the lone remaining forward role.
Southampton have Oriol Romeu returning after suspension but Alex McCarthy, Virgil van Dijk and Matt Targett remain out. Charlie Austin is nearing a return but the trip to Stamford Bridge is expected to have come too soon.
- Chelsea have won 11 of their last 12 home matches (Premier League).
- Southampton haven’t kept a Premier League clean sheet against Chelsea since December 2002, conceding in 13 consecutively since.
- Chelsea have scored at least 2 goals in 6 of their last 7 home matches (Premier League).
Eden Hazard – Chelsea
Hazard with 14 goals and 5 assists to his name, has undoubtedly been one of the best players of the season. He has been consistently brilliant throughout the campaign and particularly rampant in the big games when the stakes cannot be higher.
With an impressive scoring record at Stamford Bridge, the in-form (4 goals and 2 assists in the last 5 games in all competitions) Belgian playmaker is expected to step up to the plate again and deliver for the Blues to successfully establish a seven-point cushion at the summit before their rivals take the field a day later.
Oriol Romeu – Southampton
Oriol Romeu is one of the key players in Claude Puel’s robust 4-2-3-1 with the Spaniard being the anchorman in the middle of the park. The 25-year old former Chelsea midfielder has been incredibly vital for Southampton’s energy and distribution in the middle which was evident in the cup final against Manchester United and a key characteristic of the South Coast side under Claude Puel.
He has made more tackles and interceptions per game than anyone else in the squad and will have to put in a similar effort if they were to have any chance of stopping Conte’s men in their own backyard.
The Chelsea machine to churn out another three important points on a comfortable evening.
Chelsea 3-1 Southampton