So, it’s back to the FA Cup to help save Chelsea’s season. After a disastrous 1-0 defeat at home to QPR wiped out all the goodwill that Rafa Benitez may have been gathering, Chelsea travel to the south of England with possibly a tough fixture, depending on how Nigel Adkins decides to play it out.
After a home defeat Wednesday night, not only did Benitez bring back his famous rotation policy, but also he did so in a derby where everyone on the planet knew that QPR would come out firing. Granted, the team he put out were good enough to win, but questions will be asked on his decision to leave out both Juan Mata and Hazard in a derby match, but also a match that could see the Blues put real pressure on the two Manchester clubs, as both have a much tougher run of games.
Southampton, though, despite their record and standing in the league have played much better than QPR have this season and should prove a bit sterner test. It will be interesting to see what lineup Benitez chooses given that this is another cup competition that hands out a trophy at the end.
Benitez famous rotation policy failed, but could he have rotated the wrong players against QPR?
I questioned the decision to rotate Mata and Hazard both because I think that you need one of them to be the creative force that can sometimes get you out of bad situations against teams sitting deep. I understood the idea that both have played a lot between both Japan and the Club World Cup and in the run-in over the holiday.
However, my question was more to do with the deployment in the center of the park and the central defence. In all of Rafa’s rotating, he’s missed the opportunity to rest either Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic, or David Luiz by playing the latter in the holding midfield role. While the numbers are short in midfield, the numbers at the back are just as vital, and you won’t be able to rotate either position unless Benitez brings Ramires back to the midfield, which I don’t believe he’ll do in the absence of Victor Moses, and the departure of John Mikel Obi also. Until John Terry returns, at least four players almost have to play every match, in Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, and Azpilicueta. It’s a lot to ask of those players, particularly in the mental fatigue areas, which I thought we saw a little bit of in the QPR match.
On to Southampton, who are not as bad as their position in the table suggests.
Based on form, there’s no way that Southampton’s attacking force deserves to be anywhere near the relegation zone. Southampton have scored 27 goals in the Premier League this season, just 2 fewer than Swansea who are 7 places above them in 9th.
Southampton’s major weakness is that while they have scored goals, they haven’t been able to stop the opposition from scoring on a consistent basis, having shipped 38 goals this term.
However, Adkins’ side has shown on the pattern of play that they are a better team than the table suggests, having deserved points against both Manchester United and Manchester City after taking the lead and throwing it away late on. As of latem they’ve struggled to get a win, but they’ve also curbed their goals against tally with only Stoke City scoring more than twice against them.
To me, Southampton represent what we’re seeing lately from the newly promoted sides in their first season up. The mindset seems to be, especially with the sides that try to play the ball and attack that they’re going to either stay up or go down fighting by attacking. It worked for teams like West Brom and Norwich, and we’ll see how it works for Southampton.
In terms of talent, Southampton does have pedigree.
When looking at Southampton, you can’t ignore the youth setup and the club’s ability to develop young talent. From players like Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale to the current iteration of players like Adam Lallana, Southampton have done well in developing players, just not necessarily being able to keep them.
However, this side does have some really good midfielders with creativity in the aforementioned Lallana, but also in Morgan Schneiderlein, who we were once after as a youth player, and Gaston Ramirez who joined this season from Bologna.
In addition, they have Rickie Lambert up front, who’s only scored 8 times this season, but has managed to score at least 20 goals a season since he joined Southampton in 2009 during their journey from League One back to the top flight. They can score and create goals, but as I mentioned before, they do have some trouble stopping others from scoring.
This entire preview may be for naught if Adkins does as I expect him to do and trot out the kids for a day of fun.
This is the age-old debate with the FA Cup, especially for the teams at the bottom of the Premier League coming off the holiday period and who have drawn top Premier League sides. The allure of drawing and Arsenal, Chelsea, or United just isn’t there because you play them twice already, and you have to think about possibly managing small resources in an attempt to stay up. £40M pounds plus prize money for your position is a lot more than what winning the FA Cup pays off, so the manager has to decide whether a romantic cup run is worth the resources you could spend in trying to stay up for the financial reasons.
You’ve seen that for clubs with good financial situations to start with, just surviving the first season in the top flight can be a big step to establishing yourself in the division. West Brom, for instance, had the distinction of yo-yoing back and forth between the Championship and Premier League, but at the last time of asking, stayed up and have managed to develop into a solid mid-table side. Stoke City have done much the same thing, although with a different style of football.
I have a sneaky suspicion that Adkins will change his side in an attempt to ward off Aston Villa and Wigan who I think are their biggest challengers for that last relegation spot.
Will Demba Ba play a part?
The first signing of January is official, and it’s Demba Ba coming in from Newcastle. We’ve all seen him play and what he can do, but I think I’ll look at where I think he fits into this team.
The first thing is that I think we have to acknowledge that this isn’t the player that you bring in to truly challenge Fernando Torres with a replacement. While Ba’s not a bad player, from what I’ve seen from him, he’s not on the level of even a Javier Hernandez or a Danny Welbeck in terms of what he can bring to the table. He’s a good striker with the ability to finish with his head or feet, but I think his impact is magnified on mid-table sides where he’s generally better than some of the team around him.
However, I think if you put him in a top side like we have, some of his deficiencies come to the forefront that, ironically, are some of the same ones that Torres has. I don’t think Ba has the greatest first touch. Sometimes he doesn’t control passes as he should. I also think that there are times when he stays too stationary in central areas and doesn’t drift enough to find space, preferring to play through the middle. I think it’s partly why his partnership with Papiss Cisse never really worked.
However, all that being said, he’s a tremendous secondary option that can play and can play well. He does offer something slightly different to Torres in that he plays better with his back to goal than Torres, and he’s a very streaky scorer. That ability to finish in quantities is something that could present a challenge to Torres if Ba proves to be able to score. Overall, I’m not sure he’s a massive upgrade over Torres, but he is a massive upgrade over Daniel Sturridge, which in the long run, might be the better option.