Two of the Premier League’s most in-form sides meet at the St. Mary’s Stadium on Saturday as Southampton aim for a sixth win in seven games against Chelsea, who are unbeaten since the middle of December.
There was little to choose between the sides in Southampton’s most recent outing away to Swansea City, but the restoration of their defensive resolve brought about by Fraser Forster’s return to fitness went a long way towards proving the difference, while it was Shane Long who made the telling contribution at the other end. The Irish striker has caused Chelsea problems in the past and on current form he is really making his case to be a regular starter amid the presence of Charlie Austin and Graziano Pelle.
The Saints are unbeaten in their last three matches against Chelsea, including a fine 3-1 victory in West London back in October. Sadio Mane was the outstanding player on that occasion, but since then he has often struggled to find his best form, particularly in a goalscoring capacity. However, he has all the talent and ability to give Baba Rahman a testing afternoon and his side know that if they score, the confidence given to them by Forster means they have a good chance of earning three more points.
They may have won 5-1 in both of their last two domestic matches, but Chelsea have their work cut out if they are hoping to leave the South coast victorious. Diego Costa will be well marshalled by three committed centre-backs, so it will be left to the likes of Willian, Pedro Rodriguez and the improving Eden Hazard to produce that little bit of quality and subtlety to breach the home defence and thus help to continue the club’s steady rise up the table.
Contributing to an emphatic win over a defensive challenged Newcastle United and showing some sparkle against a weakened Manchester City last weekend in the FA Cup will certainly have helped to boost Hazard’s self-belief. Make no mistake, he is still a long way from his outstanding displays of last term, but the Belgian winger is on the right track and seems to be benefitting from the greater man-management of Guus Hiddink. Here his focus will be on winning his individual battle with Cedric Soares.
Long-term absentees Florin Gardos and Jay Rodriguez are not yet ready to return for Southampton, who still have Victor Wanyama suspended.
John Terry is still out for Chelsea, who are also without the services of loan striking duo Radamel Falcao and Alexandre Pato.