After a 4-0 thrashing of Stoke City at the Brittania, Chelsea return to the friendly, or perhaps not so friendly confines of Stamford Bridge to welcome Southampton in a match that was postponed in December due to Chelsea’s involvement in the Club World Cup. The interesting fact of this match is that it comes just 11 days after these two teams met at St. Mary’s in FA Cup Third Round action.
In that match, Demba Ba opened his scoring account for the Blues after Jay Rodriguez scored on a terrifyingly bad mix up in central defence. However, the Blues quality saw them put 5 past Southampton and will be looking to do something similar in this league fixture.
Ironically, Southampton’s league form hasn’t been that terrible, having collected 17 points from their last 11 league matches, which is just 1 point better than Chelsea have done over the same period. The other interesting factoid is that John Terry may be in line for his first start since his knee injury against Liverpool, while I also expect Southampton to have a more recognisable side than the one that played in the FA Cup.
First point: Normally, there’s something to look at when you meet a team for a second time, but in this case, I expect Southampton to be a little more potent, but I’m not sure how much more potent.
The interesting part of that FA Cup match was how much different that Saints team was in some very key areas. There was no Gaston Ramirez or Rickie Lambert. Lambert just was on the bench and went unused, while Ramirez didn’t even make the bench. In addition, the youngster James Ward-Prowse started in midfield, sending former Chelsea player Jack Cork to right back.
I don’t expect that side to trot out against us tonight. In fact, if Nigel Adkins was watching, poor Jack Cork and young Luke Shaw took turns getting roasted by Victor Moses and Eden Hazard. Lucky for Adkins, Moses is away with Nigeria, so at least one of them won’t be there to torture them.
Instead, it’s more likely that Cork will return to the center midfield to continue deputising for the injured Adam Lallana alongside Morgan Schneiderlin, while Shaw may miss out due to injury. From a Chelsea perspective, those flanks were the key component to the attack given that neither Guly do Prado nor Jason Puncheon were really offering much assistance to either Shaw or Cork, or creating much either. Expect the return of Ramirez for do Prado to at least offer a creative outlet.
Patience must be a virtue, especially at home.
The easiest way to attack Southampton as a general philosophy is to just be patient and wait for your chances. They will come, and there will be enough of them, as Southampton are just not a good defensive side. They score enough goals to stay up. They just don’t stop them.
Southampton’s main problem is actually very similar to a problem we’ll see again on Sunday (but that’s another article). They lack a bit of cohesion and organization at the back and do leave holes that teams can attack when they get the chance. For instance, last week against Aston Villa, you can make the argument that Villa were the much better side and created the better chances, but lacked the finishing touch to put them away.
What I noticed in the FA Cup is that they play a line that’s higher than what you would expect them to play against a team like Chelsea and that they close down aggressively. The problem is that if you move it quick enough and wide enough, they can’t recover and leave space. Both the goals by Ba were products of the ball moving very quickly and Ba taking advantage of a gap between the two center backs or one center back and a full back. The chances will come, but you have to take them when they do.
Rickie Lambert is deceptively good.
At the beginning of the season, I wondered if Lambert was actually good enough to score at the highest level consistently. The record was there and Lambert’s scored all sorts of goals, but the question was could the team carry him since he doesn’t really do much else but stick the ball in the net?
Well, apparently, that’s not a problem. Lambert is about to approach a double-digit scoring total once again for a side that’s in a relegation battle. The interesting part about it is that he’s still largely a goal poacher. He doesn’t really appear to offer much in the build up play, and he tends to roam about. The strange thing is that in all his roaming, he manages to pop up in areas where the ball should come in.
In a sense, he’s sometimes like watching a ghost. Because he does very little else in the transitional play, it’s easy to lose track of where he is in the grand marking scheme. It’s when that happens that a ball is played through the back line or crossed in and Lambert’s there to put it home. Strangely, Rodriguez did a similar thing for the first goal in the FA Cup. He wandered about enough so that during the transition, the defence fell asleep and he was in on goal.
While Southampton have a habit of dropping too deep and looking to be all over the place at times, they do have good enough ball players to make one pass that catches you out and the strikers to lull you to sleep. Whoever’s in the back line must be very aware of that.
How will Nigel Adkins deploy his midfield behind his striker?
It’s an interesting question because it might give an indication as to whether he thinks he can get a point from this or more. It seems that against bigger sides, he tends to do one of two things: either play Ramirez in a wider area and play a more defensive-minded midfielder behind the striker, or play do Prado on the left and move Ramirez inside to play as a number 10. He’s opted for the latter against most sides that generally don’t play with a true holding midfielder, e.g. Newcastle and Arsenal, but used Steven Davis behind the striker in a change side against us.
However, against the teams just above them in the table or around them, he’s opted to play two strikers, with Rodriguez playing in the hole behind Lambert and Ramirez going out to the left. It’s the side that drew 3-3 to Stoke, 1-1 with Fulham, and that beat Aston Villa last weekend.
The interesting thing is that I think Adkins may look to try to nick a point given that Chelsea’s home form lately has not been good, and the fact that Chelsea won’t play with two true holding midfielders since without John Mikel Obi and Oriol Romeu, we don’t really have a true holding player. I expect them to come at the Blues and see if they can’t get a result.
For a swan song, Frank Lampard is making a great point of how good he is and has been.
I will admit. There have been times in the last few years where I questioned Lampard’s role in the system. Last season, for instance, I questioned whether his desire to get forward encroached on the influence of Juan Mata by taking spaces that generally the Spaniard wanted to play in. Back then, I believed that Lampard’s best chance to see the pitch was to reinvent himself in the Michael Ballack mould and work on being a deeper player.
Well, this season, he’s managed to retain the ability to go forward while also being a reliable player in a deeper area. The one thing that I’ve noticed more about Lampard in the last few weeks is how well he controls the tempo of the midfield and how no one else playing in the deeper roles can do that, with the exception of Mikel when he’s playing well.
It’s become apparent lately in matches that feature Ramires and David Luiz as the holding midfielders that there seems to be a lack of subtlety about the game. By that, I mean the ability to know when to try to push the ball forward quickly and when to stabilise the play and perhaps slow it down. I’ve noticed that when Lampard plays, he acts as that type of player in a deeper role, which allows the likes of Juan Mata to be able to roam around and dictate from higher up.
I’ve always said that I prefer Lampard over Steven Gerrard because I think that Lampard understands the concepts of tempo and rhythm and isn’t always looking to play all-out all the time. This season, it seems to me that he’s refining that aspect of his game, and he’s still picking his times to get forward. Until we find another player to do that job deeper, we will miss him when he’s gone.