5/10 32/10 52/10
Chelsea welcome Southampton to Stamford Bridge on Sunday as they look to tighten their grip on the Premier League title with just 11 games to go. Ronald Koeman’s side will be going all out to claim maximum points in their quest for a spot in Europe’s ultimate competition, but they’ll need to be spectacular to stop this superior Chelsea force. The Blues are undefeated at home this season and the last time Southampton won at ‘The Bridge’ was over a decade ago.
“We’re gonna be champions,” sang the jubilant Chelsea supporters into the east London sky after their team built on their League Cup success by holding their nerve in an anxious 1-0 victory over West Ham last time out. Another match down, another game closer to finishing the end of the season in the position that they have occupied since virtually the first week of the campaign. The Blues remain five points clear of holders Manchester City in second with a game in hand – which could go up to eight points should they beat Leicester City on Wednesday the 29th April. It would be a disaster if they threw away the title from this position and I certainly wouldn’t bet on that happening under Mourinho, the serial winner. The Special One has started a Chelsea dynasty once before and the Portuguese is determined to do it again this season. Chelsea’s home form has been nothing short of sensational this season. With 35 points from the 39 available, including 11 wins, two draws and no defeats from their first 13 games at Stamford Bridge, the back four have been the backbone to the side’s impressive run. Last season Chelsea beat Southampton 3-1 in West London, but played out to a 1-1 draw in December’s reverse tie of this fixture with Eden Hazard cancelling out Sadio Mane’s audacious finish. At home, Chelsea are assured more possession and given the fact that they’ve only conceded two goals in their last seven home games plus The Saints’ dreadful record here makes it a daunting prospect for Koeman’s team. Cesc Fabregas pulls and plucks the strings in Chelsea’s midfield so tunefully and leads the assist charts having set up 15 goals. The Spaniard is a vital cog of creativity for Mourinho’s side and has formed a telepathic understanding with Nemanja Matic who will return to the squad after serving up his suspension. Matic has emerged as one of the best defensive midfielders in the world over the past two seasons and helps put together part of the high-volume, accurate passing that starves opposition players of the ball. Up front, Diego Costa gives the team an unshakeable focal point in their attack, something they were without for long spells of the last campaign. Costa’s aggressive edge at the sharp end of the pitch has injected some major impetus into the Blues’ attacking forays and he is currently tied with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero who also has 17 goals this season. Costa hasn’t scored since Chelsea’s 5-0 disposing of Swansea two months ago – he is long overdue.
Being the surprise package of the season, Southampton are right in the middle of one of the closest top four races in recent memory with five clubs in contention for third and fourth. The Saints are currently sixth on the table, just four points behind fourth place Manchester United and Koeman is confident his team can surprise everyone by breaking the mould and booting one of the top clubs in the country out of Champions League qualification. Koeman’s men have been struggling to find the net having scored just twice in their last six games and against a rigid Chelsea defence, they’ll need Graziano Pelle to rediscover his early season form. The Italian hasn’t scored a Premier League goal in 2015 with his last coming in a 3-0 home win over Everton on December 20th. That is a run of 11 league games without a goal, having scored eight in his previous 17 appearances. It is strange to see Pelle go off the boil so spectacularly, having looked untouchable when the Saints were at the peak of their powers. Playmaker Dusan Tadic is another whose abilities seem to have waned lately, which has seen January signing Filip Djuricic take his place in the side. Southampton have claimed just seven points from a possible 18 having picked up just two wins and a draw from their last six matches played. They did very well to beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in their last fixture at St. Mary’s Stadium, but lost 1-0 to West Brom in their last away game. Beating the intractable League Cup champions remains a tall order for the Saints but if it happens, it will have to be the performance of the season as Chelsea are invincible there. Senegalese forward Mane is the danger player the Blues will need to keep close tabs on, having already beaten Thibaut Courtois this season. He’s scored six times and has two assists to his name while playing as a winger. His pace allows him to stretch defence’s and drive the team forward which could unsettle Chelsea’s rearguard.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic; Matic, Fabregas; Hazard, Oscar, Willian; Costa
Forster; Clyne, Fonte, Alderweireld, Bertrand; Wanyama, Schneiderlin; Elia, Duricic, Mane; Pelle
Chelsea are favourites at 5/10 while Southampton are priced up at 52/10. The Blues look an irresistable force at home and have scored a remarkable 27 times while conceding just five times there. The return of Matic is a massive boost for Mourinho’s team who failed to assert their regular dominance in the centre of the pitch in his absence. The Special One knows that his side cannot afford to drop points and they will be fully motivated to grab all three against Southampton. Back the boys in blue to reign victorious.