The FA Cup may not be as revered as it once was, but it remains a highlight of the English footballing calendar. There are many that believe this stage of the competition should be played on neutral grounds, but Wembley provides a spectacle that is difficult to replicate. Chelsea and Southampton will do battle for the second time in just over a week, with both teams needing a win for different reasons. Although this competition isn’t a priority for Saints as they attempt to stay in the Premier League, they need to gain some confidence from somewhere and a win on Sunday will do that. Meanwhile, last season’s Premier League champions need to salvage their season and winning this competition is the only way to do that.
Chelsea have won the FA Cup on seven occasions and they will be desperate to lift it for an eighth time in May. Antonio Conte looks to be on his way out of the club, due to a strained relationship with the board. However, he remains a world class manager and he will want to finish his time in charge on a high. This is a competition that he has never won and may not get the opportunity to lift again, depending on where his career takes him in the future. After a tough start in 2018, the Blues have won their last two matches and go into this semi-final in better form.
On the other hand, Southampton can’t buy a win and they are sleepwalking towards relegation after six seasons in the Premier League. It would be a surprise if they do eventually finish in the bottom three as they have been regulars in the top ten since their promotion in 2012. However, they have won only five times this season and deserve to be in the position they are currently in. On paper, this semi-final looks easy to predict, but Mark Hughes has a lot of talent in his squad and they showed last weekend that they can cause problems for Chelsea. They took a two-goal lead and arguably would have won the game if they weren’t so low on confidence. They will be the outsiders on Sunday, but it would be idiotic to rule them out.
Chelsea haven’t kept a clean sheet in ten matches across all competitions. Antonio Conte has been known for his ability to organise a team, but he has failed to succeed in that this season.
Four of Southampton’s last five victories came in the FA Cup. They have played their best football in this competition and Chelsea need to be wary of that.
Chelsea have had a miserable season and Eden Hazard will be underwhelmed by his own contribution. The PFA award winners have now been announced and his name was nowhere to be seen. In fact, his omission has barely worth commenting on as he has done little to earn a place in the team of the year. He has regularly caused problems for opposition sides and been the main focus of the Chelsea attack, but his end product has been lacking. A return of 12 goals and three assists in the Premier League is respectable, but a player of the Belgian’s quality will be expecting more from himself. The main problem for him has been a lack of support. Defenders know that he is the main threat, therefore there are two or three men regularly keeping an eye on his movements, which makes it difficult. The best players often step up when it matters and Hazard will be motivated to be the difference this weekend and help his team to another final.
Southampton will need to dig in and show a resiliency that hasn’t been present in recent weeks. They have regularly given up after conceding a goal and a similar mentality will see them easily beaten at Wembley. The player that will be most important for them will be Oriol Romeu and he will be keen to impress against his former side. Since the sale of Victor Wanyama, the Spanish midfielder has stepped up and proven himself to be one of the most consistent defensive midfielders in the league. There won’t be a shortage of options for him in the summer if Southampton are relegated to the Championship. He has averaged 2.06 tackles and 2.06 interceptions per ninety minutes in the Premier League, while he has won 56.3% of his aerial duels. The underdogs will need to fight hard to come out on top and their 26-year-old ball-winner will be expected to lead by example.
Marcos Alonso won’t be available for Chelsea as he continues to serve his suspension. Danny Drinkwater is a doubt, while Ethan Ampadu and David Luiz will miss out with long-term injuries. Olivier Giroud is likely to lead the line after his two-goal haul against the same opposition last weekend.
Southampton have a near full-strength squad to choose from with Mario Lemina being the only doubt with a back injury. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Charlie Austin get recalled to the starting eleven, while Steven Davis and Nathan Redmond will also be pushing to be included from the start.
The fixture between these two teams last weekend resulted in five goals being scored and given the vulnerability of both teams, a similar score-line is likely on Sunday. Chelsea look totally lost at the back in recent weeks, while Southampton lose all confidence after conceding. The Blues are the most likely winners this weekend. Their quality will be too much for their relegation-threatened opposition, but the match should be an entertaining watch for the neutral.
Chelsea 3-1 Southampton