Big Week In The Title Race begins At Home To Southampton
After defeating Tottenham to reach the FA cup final, we continue our battle for the title against them with a home match against Southampton on Tuesday.
It will be very important to pick up three points here, as we face Everton away on Saturday, and Tottenham also face Arsenal at the weekend, so this week has the potential to have major implications on the title race. Tottenham also play mid-week, with a fixture away at Crystal Palace, who are on a great run of form at the moment, and come into that match after beating Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday. It could be to our advantage that we play a day earlier, as we have the opportunity to exert some pressure if we can get a win.
Southampton beat us here last season, but none of our matches from last season are really a barometer to this. That 1-3 defeat had been preceded by three home wins and three draws at Stamford Bridge against the saints. There has only been one 0-0 between the sides in the Premier league, a boxing day encounter at the Bridge in 2002.
Southampton come here on a good away run, having been victorious in three of their last four fixtures on the road. As we found out against Palace at home, no one can be taken for granted in this run in.
Although Southampton were defeated in their last outing against Manchester City, Their two matches before this were an away win at the Hawthorns, and what is now looking like a very credible 3-1 win over Crystal Palace. An important recent returnee for them has been Gabbiadini, who was fit to start in their last match. He has been excellent for them since his move from Napoli in January, and needs to be well marshalled, particularly from crosses. Southampton will likely field Tadic in behind him, with Redmond and Ward-Prowse wide. Hojbjerg will likely be one of the deeper midfielders, alongside either Davis or Clasie. Champions league winner with Chelsea Ryan Bertrand will deserve a good reception from the home fans, but provides a serious threat overlapping from left back. In fact both he and Cedric Soares on the other side both like to bomb forward, so defensively it will be key for us to pick up not only their wingers, but full backs as well. This could temp Conte to make use of Willians defensive attributes, like he did at Wembley on Saturday, although he is unlikely to leave out Hazard again, but the Belgian will certainly be called on defensively if Southampton can take the opportunity to attack with width.
Costa is also likely to return to the starting line up, although it would be no surprise to see Batshuayi retain his place. He put in a good performance against Tottenham, stretching them behind, and linking well with our midfield. Perhaps we will see the return of the Pedro, Hazard, Willian front three, which would also allow Conte to use Hazard centrally, employing both Willian and Pedro wide, two players more than happy to do their share of defensive work. At the back, Cahill trained on Monday, so may be fit to return to the back three. Ake deputised on Saturday, and played very well for the most part, but was caught the wrong side of Kane for his headed equaliser. It has been over three months since we managed a clean sheet in the league, with our last being in the home win over Hull. This has been putting extra pressure on us going forward, which we don’t need at this stage of the season. We have delivered till now, but with Everton away on Saturday, and the possibility to put Tottenham under pressure, it would be great to win this to nil.