Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea title challengers travel down to the South Coast on New Year’s Day fresh off the back of a pulsating 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Stamford Bridge last Sunday. Their opponents Southampton come into the game following a 2-1 defeat at Merseyside’s other top flight club Everton, in which Chelsea’s on loan Romelu Lukaku scored the winner. They would have been disappointed not to have got anything from their trip to Goodison Park, especially as they would have believed they had got back on form with the 3-0 mauling at Cardiff on Boxing Day. Believe it or not, that was the Saints first Premier League win since the 9th November against Hull following what was an extremely promising start to the season for Pochettino’s men which saw them fighting at the top end of the table before their visit to Stamford Bridge on the 1st December, although they have played some quality opposition in between and held Man City to a draw. Chelsea will be hoping for a similar score line in this game to that day exactly a month before hand , when they ran out 3-1 winners thanks to goals from the two centre backs Cahill and Terry, and substitute Ba.
Demba Ba seems to enjoy playing Southampton. He also scored two against them on his debut in the FA Cup 3rd Round at St Marys and grabbed one in a 2-2 draw at home last January. Whether he will start is questionable though. Mourinho may well go with Eto’o, who has solidly played the last 180 minutes, following his goal on Sunday, or may bring Torres in for his first start since the 0-0 draw at Arsenal.
One man who will not be making the trip is David Luiz, who looked assured in the midfield slot on Sunday but unfortunately received his fifth booking of the season against Liverpool. Mourinho joked that he can now go on holiday, and the hug the two shared in the post-match interview will delight many of the Brazilian’s fans that are worried he may be sold in January. Returning from suspension and likely to take Luiz place is fellow Brazilian Ramires, not to be confused with his namesake in the Southampton side, who spells his name with a Z. Alongside him will be either Mikel or Lampard, who shared forty five minutes each at the weekend.
There will be some tired legs out there in what is our fourth game in ten days but there will almost certainly be no rest for Cech, Cahill, Terry or Azpilicueta. Ivanovic picked up a knock so it is likely that Cole will be the fourth member of the back line and Azpilicueta will play in his favoured right back position. The three attacking midfield places are up for contention. Willian, Hazard and Oscar all had good games against Liverpool but Mata and Schurrle will now be fresher. Van Ginkel remains a long term absentee.
In the Saints side Chelsea fans will look out for Luke Shaw, a self-proclaimed Chelsea fan who may well turn out in Blue in the future. He is one of many young English players making a name for themselves on the South Coast along with Lallana, Ward-Prowse and Clyne. Their other English talent includes Lambert, who scored on his Three Lions debut against Scotland and ex Chelsea youth prospect Jack Cork. In the reverse fixture, Southampton started to look vulnerable after Polish goalkeeper Boruc went off with a hand injury and it is probably no coincidence that their form has suffered since. Gazzaniga was the man to replace him that day, but Kelvin Davis has since returned to take up the sticks. The hosts other injury concerns include record signing Osvaldo, Wanyama and Do Prado.
Chelsea were the first competitive visitors to St Marys back in August 2001, and ran out 2-0 winners. The 3,088 travelling fans will be hoping that history repeats itself to get 2014 off to a flyer. Chelsea have a 40% win record away to Southampton, having won in 16 of their 40 visits but did come unstuck in a 2-1 defeat under Benitez last term.
This is the first of three away trips for the Blues, before visits to Derby in the Cup and Hull before Man United come to the Bridge on the 19th.