Chelsea welcome Southampton to Stamford Bridge in their first match of 2019. The previous 12 months have been transitional for the home side, as they have evolved from the defensive coaching of Antonio Conte to the expressive style of Maurizio Sarri. It remains early days in the new manager’s tenure, but there have been positive signs. The supporters will be hoping for progress to be made in the new calendar year and that the Blues emerge as a title-contending team once again. Meanwhile, the visitors will have their focus on survival yet again.
Going into the new year, Chelsea are in 4th position and they will be looking to cement their position over the coming weeks. It is imperative that they return to the Champions League this season, as they will be able to progress much quicker if they have the allure of playing in Europe’s premier competition. Although they already have a talented squad, there will be areas that need improvement and a top-four finish will help them attract a higher calibre of player. The Blues are currently five points clear of Arsenal with a far superior goal difference. It is important that they don’t slip up in games like this one if they are to comfortably finish above their London rivals.
Since the appointment of Ralph Hasenhuttl, Southampton have been a much-improved team. They have won two of their last four matches, but other results at the weekend have left them in a precarious position, out of the relegation zone on goal difference. The former RB Leipzig coach won’t be expecting his team to win matches such as this one, but he will be looking for a good performance. The Saints were impressive against Manchester City and supporters will be hoping for a similar showing on Wednesday.
Eden Hazard created 101 chances in the Premier League during 2018. This is 23 more than any other player managed in the competition.
Southampton’s starting eleven against Manchester City had an average age of 24 years and 274 days, which was their youngest in the competition since December 2013.
The Belgian is one of the frontrunners to win the PFA Player of the Year award and he will be desperate to perform well during the second half of the season to capture it. Although his team’s failure to challenge for the title may hamper him, he has been back to his best under Maurizio Sarri and he looks to be enjoying his football once again. There has always been a feeling that there is a lot more to come from the attacker and 2019 could be the year that it all clicks for him. Hazard has already contributed 10 goals and nine assists this season in the Premier League. It is shaping up to be his best campaign in the final third since arriving in England. The next month will be difficult for Chelsea, as rumours will swirl regarding his long-term future, but right now, he is their star man and the player that all opposition teams fear.
His performance against Manchester City was an underwhelming one, but Mario Lemina is one of the prized assets of this Southampton squad and Hasenhuttl will be looking to build the team around him. The red card shown to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg means that Lemina will be given another chance to impress against a top-six team. As a former Juventus player, it is matches such as these that the midfielder will be looking to shine as he clearly sees his future at a higher level than Southampton are currently playing. The 25-year-old averages 2.6 tackles and 2.2 interceptions per game, underlining his ball-winning qualities. However, he offers so much more than that, as he is capable of creating chances with his passing range and causing problems with his runs on the ball. Chelsea have shown some vulnerabilities when being counter-attacked and Lemina will be key in that area of the game for the visitors.
Olivier Giroud is a doubt after going off on Sunday with an injury. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Cesc Fabregas could both be back for the home side. Callum Hudson-Odoi could be in contention to return, while Pedro remains on the sidelines for at least another week.
After his red card, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will miss out for the visiting team. Ryan Bertrand is hoping to be passed fit to feature against his former club. Michael Obafemi won’t be back to feature as he remains out.
This is going to be a challenge for Chelsea as they have regularly shown themselves to be vulnerable against the teams in the bottom half of the table. They beat Crystal Palace on Sunday, but their performance was far from convincing. Southampton have looked a lot more threatening under Hasenhuttl and they will be relishing the prospect of testing themselves against this Chelsea team. The home side should have enough, but it is unlikely to be easy for them.