Antonio Conte's long goodbye visits Southampton next
The first act of a two-part drama against Southampton takes place on Saturday at St. Mary’s as Chelsea strive to salvage their season in the Premier League. After the home draw against West Ham last weekend, the Champions League spots look out of reach for Antonio Conte’s men but, with the Saints sitting in the relegation places, it’ll be far from an easy ride for the visitors.
Chelsea are still without David Luiz and Ethan Ampadu through injury but Ross Barkley could be involved having not played for the first team since January. Davide Zappacosta is also expected to return having missed the West Ham game with injury.
Southampton will be without Dale Stephens who is suspended after being sent off against Arsenal last week.
Steven Davis is a major doubt with an Achilles injury but Mario Lemina should return after missing the trip to Arsenal through illness.
Probable Southampton XI (5-4-1): McCarthy; Cedric, Bednarek Yoshida, Hoedt, Bertrand; Ward-Prowse, Romeu, Lemina, Redmond; Austin.
Probable Chelsea XI (3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Bakayoko, Kante, Alonso; Willian, Morata, Hazard.
With the Blues likely to dominate the ball, Alvaro Morata will have to be patient for a chance to come his way against a sturdy Southampton defence. It may be that he gets one or two major chances over the entire 90 minutes so he’ll have to be efficient with his shooting. Oriol Romeu is up against his former side and will provide some rearguard action to try and deny the Blues any space or time in midfield. Cesc Fabregas may find himself on the bench to start with but will have to evade Romeu to have any sort of influence on the game. Andreas Christensen was dropped for last week’s draw against West Ham and, should he be reinstated in the starting 11 for this game, he’ll want to prove a point to Antonio Conte. Charlie Austin is likely to be his opponent and the English striker is always dangerous in the penalty area.
Southampton boss Mark Hughes has already lost twice to Chelsea this season with Stoke in 4-0 and 5-1 defeats. Only Graeme Souness has lost three times to one club during the same Premier League season. Only Sam Allardyce and Roy Hodgson have won against Chelsea with four different Premier League clubs – Mark Hughes has won against the Blues with three different clubs so far. Chelsea have won just 2 of their last 9 matches in all competitions. Southampton have not won a league game since the start of February where they defeated Alan Pardew’s West Brom at the Hawthorns. The Saints have not beaten a ‘Top 6’ team home or away this season. Chelsea have won on 3 of their last 4 visits to St. Mary’s and have lost there just once since the Saints were promoted back to the Premier League in 2012.
The two teams face each other again in just over a week in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley so the Blues will want to do some psychological damage to Saturday’s opponents as well as come away from the south coast with all three points.