Southampton and Chelsea lock horns in a Sunday humdinger which promises to leave us at the edge of our seats. Both teams have picked up the pieces after a recent slump in form, which sees them challenging at the very top of the table. Chelsea have won their last three Premier League games without conceding, while Southampton are on a run of five games without defeat, winning three of those. Both teams certainly know how to defend, but its goals that win you games. Just who will have that extra cutting-edge up front on the day to claim maximum points?
To Win (90 mins)
Southampton have surprised many football fans this season. Everybody expected the Saints to fall apart after letting go of two of their star players in Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane, as well as manager Ronald Koeman. If anything, they’ve looked much better and have been a worry for some of the big teams this season.
In their last fixture, Claude Puel’s side capitalised on a John Stones error to take the lead against Manchester City through a Nathan Redmond finish. The game may have ended at 1-1, but Southampton looked the better side for much of the game and could have actually left with more than just a point at the Etihad Stadium.
On paper, the Saints are not a side full of superstars, but the way they look as a team makes them a joy to watch. The backline in particular, have conceded just eight goals – one less than their opponents, with just Tottenham conceding fewer.
A few Saints have stood out from the rest of the bunch, though. Virgil van Dijk has been undoubtedly their best player, while his centre-back partner Jose Fonte has almost been just as brilliant. Goalkeeper Fraser Forster has also been superb, keeping three clean sheets in his last five games.
Another player who is living up to his full potential now is Oriol Romeu. The 25-year old Spaniard is slowly proving that Chelsea made a big mistake by selling him in 2015, and looks rock-solid in front of the Southampton back-four.
Up front, Charlie Austin has been key for the Hampshire-based side with four goals to his name. Record signing, Sofiane Boufal, is fit and is likely to come into the starting 11 after impressing in the Man City clash. That said, Southampton are spoilt for choice in attack, with Redmond and Dusan Tadic both also in great form. Southampton have a good balance between attack and defence and could be tough to break down.
Chelsea come into this game at the best possible time ever. Their 4-0 win over Manchester United last week was just a tiny clip of what is to come under new manager, Antonio Conte. Even if it wasn’t done intentionally, Chelsea humiliated their arch-rivals.
That win put the Blues on a run of three consecutive victories, keeping clean sheets in all those matches. To be fair, though, Thibaut Courtois was never really tested until the return of Jose Mourinho and his team.
Chelsea have certainly looked much better since their shock defeat to Arsenal, losing 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium a fortnight ago. N’Golo Kante looks like he is back to his best, doing all the dirty work, turning defence into attack for the Blues. His partner in the middle of the park, Nemanja Matic, has formed a formidable partnership with the Frenchman, providing four assists so far in the league.
One player who appreciates all the assists he can get is Diego Costa. However, if needed, the Spanish striker can create and score goals all on his own. He has seven league goals to show for it and will be eager to add to his tally.
Conte’s new-look 3-4-3 formation proves to be the way forward for Chelsea, with Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses providing good width to the Blues’ setup. If anyone is thriving under this formation, it’s the wingers.
Eden Hazard in particular has been back to his best this season, skipping past full-backs with such ease at times. Hazard already has four goals to his name and is a nightmare for any defender who goes one-on-one with him down the wing.
Forster; Martina, Van Dijk, Fonte, McQueen; Davis, Romeu; Boufal, Tadic, Redmond; Austin.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Hazard, Costa.
Prediction: Draw (47/20)
Both teams come into this game in superb form. Southampton are undefeated in five matches, with three wins; while Chelsea have won three consecutive games. This fixture has usually produced goals in the past, but now both sides are much more organised defensively. These sides are tipped to cancel each other out, which won’t be the worst result for both teams.