It has all the makings of a mouth-watering clash on today at St Mary’s, where Southampton again seek to burnish their top-four credentials against league leaders Chelsea, who appear on the verge of running away and hiding from their opposition.
A five-match losing streak that included an exit from the League Cup at the hands of third-tier Sheffield United left doubts whether Southampton could continue what had been a season of vast overachieving. The Saints, though, stopped the rot last weekend with a 3-0 victory over Everton and began the busy holiday fixture set by easing past Crystal Palace 3-1 at Selhurst Park on Boxing Day.
Sadio Mane rewarded manager Ronald Koeman’s faith in adding him to the starting lineup with a goal in the 17th minute and an assist on Ryan Bertrand’s marker shortly after halftime. Toby Alderweireld added a third as Southampton reclaimed fourth place and may again use a 3-5-2 formation given their success from these two matches.
“It’s a lot of belief in how we play in a different system, but they showed to be very comfortable and that’s important because that makes winning more easier if you play with that confidence,” Koeman told the team’s official website. “Three points makes our run in a good way after the Everton win and looks more comfortable. We know the qualities of Chelsea, we know they are very strong, but it’s a challenge we take after a comfortable win today.”
There has been little comfort playing the best of the best for Southampton, who are 1-0-4 against the top seven teams in the Premier League and have absorbed home losses to both Manchester United and reigning champions Manchester City.
“We had some possibilities against United, against City and we know we have to be very good for a result,” the Dutch manager said, “but the two wins, Everton and today, brings the team again with a lot of belief and we need that against Chelsea.”
Koeman created some personnel flexibility for this match as Harrison Reed and Shane Long were left out of Friday’s starting XI. Jose Fonte also will be available for this game after serving a one-match ban.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have come roaring back from their lone loss of 2014-15 in all competitions with three league wins on the bounce while not conceding a goal. The Blues disposed of West Ham United 2-0 at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day as John Terry and Diego Costa scored goals on each side of halftime, and the Spaniard collected the assist on Terry’s early marker.
“We played well in two different versions; the first against a defensive side, and we were very good, we moved the ball,” Jose Mourinho said. “In the second half we played against an attacking team that made changes by putting on faster players and playing direct balls into space. We coped well and found ways to counterattack.”
Costa’s clinical finish was his 13th goal in 15 league matches as Chelsea maintained their three-point advantage over Manchester City atop the table. Additionally, Mourinho is chasing his own ghost – a victory would give him the only two teams in league history to reach the halfway mark with 48 or more points since the 20-team format was adopted in 1995.
His 2005-06 squad had 52 after 19 matches en route to a successful title defense, and Mourinho fondly recalled those days when asked about Terry’s form.
“He’s full of confidence,” the Portuguese manager said. “I see my John of 2004, 2005 and 2006 here, I don’t see any difference. He’s playing so well but when the team is playing so well it’s easy for individuals.”
Chelsea did the double last season by a 6-1 aggregate, including a 3-0 romp in last season’s corresponding fixture. Fernando Torres snapped a scoreless tie in the 60th minute before Oscar set up a goal by Willian and netted late for the Blues.
Southampton are 1-6-3 in their last 10 league matches versus Chelsea.
Source: ScoreMobile FC