After a disappointing, albeit ultimately inconsequential, loss in midweek, Chelsea will face another stern test when they host high-flying Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Sunday (16:10 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
Chelsea are third in the Premier League table with 24 points from seven wins, three draws and two defeats, four points shy of leaders Arsenal. They are also through to the knockout stages of the Champions League despite a 1-0 defeat away to Basel on Tuesday.
It was a very poor performance from Chelsea, who were outshot 15 to one (seven to zero on target) and had goalkeeper Petr Cech to thank for keeping the score down. Jose Mourinho’s men were very lethargic, showing little of the power and decisiveness abundant in their 3-0 league win away to West Ham days earlier.
Mourinho, who made just one change from the team that defeated West Ham, admitted afterwards that tiredness had perhaps been a factor in his side’s performance. He will know that Chelsea can ill afford to be as sluggish on Sunday against a Southampton side who are likely to play with similar verve and energy to Tuesday’s opponents.
The loss to Basel was one of a few poor results for Chelsea this month, with a 2-0 loss away to Newcastle and a controversial 2-2 home draw with West Brom making it a difficult November. Chelsea are yet to find the consistency that Mourinho craves, but whatever his chosen solution it is certain that Oscar will have a central role to play.
The Brazilian midfielder was decidedly off form against Basel, but his positional awareness and tactical intelligence make him indispensable to Mourinho. He may lack the outright creativity of last season’s standout player Juan Mata, but his defensive contributions and ability to make space for others are invaluable, as is his newly found eye for goal.
Samuel Eto’o is doubtful for this match after being stretchered off with a groin injury in the defeat to Basel, as is David Luiz, who missed Tuesday’s match with a knee injury. Marco Van Ginkel is a long-term injury absentee.
Southampton have enjoyed an excellent start to the season and are currently fifth in the table with 22 points from six wins, four draws and two defeats. They have the best defensive record in the league, with just seven conceded, and have impressed with an energetic, high-pressing approach, masterminded by coach Mauricio Pochettino.
The decision to replace the popular Nigel Adkins with Pochettino in January of this year was not looked upon kindly by Southampton supporters. As the Argentinian approaches the anniversary of his arrival it is clear that what was undoubtedly a ruthless decision from club chairman Nicola Cortese was, nevertheless, a correct one.
Southampton play an dynamic brand of football, pressing their opponents high up the pitch and attacking quickly and directly upon gaining possession. Rickie Lambert acts as a strong central focal point, supported by fleet-footed attacking midfielders and full-backs who push forward to provide good width in the final third.
Pochettino was famed for bringing youth players into the first team during his time with Espanyol. He has certainly enjoyed the fruits of Southampton’s excellent academy, with the likes of Adam Lallana, James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw heavily involved, while Calum Chambers has performed competently in his limited appearances.
Shaw will face a late fitness test prior to Sunday’s match after picking up a thigh injury in the defeat to Arsenal last weekend, while Jack Cork and Guly Do Prado will both be absent. Dejan Lovren is expected to recover from illness to take up his usual place in the centre of defence.
Chelsea vs Southampton Betting Tips Verdict
These two sides met on three occasions last season. Chelsea were comfortable winners in the FA Cup, but Southampton enjoyed the better of the league meetings, drawing 2-2 at Stamford Bridge and then winning 2-1 at St Mary’s in March.
Saints have been tricky customers on their travels so far this season, beating Liverpool, drawing with Manchester United and giving Arsenal a good game despite their eventual defeat. They will press hard and try to force errors from a Chelsea side who are undefeated at home in the league but may be low on confidence following their midweek loss.
Southampton are capable of stifling even the best teams. Chelsea do perhaps lack the technical ability in defence and central midfield and/or the strong focal point up front necessary to extricate themselves from the pressure the away side will put them under. We expect to see a tightly contested, low-scoring match, in which the away side are capable of picking up a result.