The Premier League’s two best defences meet in Sunday’s early kick-off – so maybe we shouldn’t be expecting goals. Michael Cox assesses the tactical battle, while Alan Thompson provides his betting expertise…
Chelsea v Southampton
Sunday 13:30, Sky Sports 1.
Match Odds: Chelsea 1.625/8, Southampton 7.06/1, The Draw 4.1n/a.
One of Chelsea’s few problems this season has been their tendency to throw away leads with sloppy late concessions, and the midweek elimination from the Champions League at the hands of PSG was another example.
The reverse fixture between these sides, however, was entirely the opposite, with Sadio Mane putting Southampton ahead, and Chelsea piling on the pressure for the remainder of the game in an eventual 1-1 draw. It was unusual to see Southampton defending so deep for so long – interestingly, it’s the only time this season they’ve dropped any points from a winning position.
Chelsea are again likely to be dominant here. On home soil at Stamford Bridge they’re unbeaten in the league this season, and Jose Mourinho has emphasised how much he’s looking forward to the game, to get over the Champions League exit. Chelsea can now concentrate solely upon the Premier League.
Mourinho is likely to make a couple of changes from the side which lost to PSG. Kurt Zouma might be in line for a recall, and Willian or Juan Cuadrado could come into the side on the right, perhaps in place of Ramires. Otherwise, it’s likely to be a very familiar Chelsea side – and that’s arguably why they’ve dipped in the second half of the season, because Mourinho hasn’t rotated much this season.
Ronald Koeman could also name an unchanged side, although it seems more likely he’ll look to beef up his midfield. Last time out against Crystal Palace, he played Mane, Filip Djuricic and Elijero Elia behind Graziano Pelle – a highly attack-minded shape which could leave the defence exposed at Stamford Bridge. Expect Steven Davis or James Ward-Prowse to come into a midfield trio, which should help Southampton compete in that zone.
In terms of key battles, it’s become customary to look at Eden Hazard’s contest with the opposition right-back, and his meeting with Nathaniel Clyne will be particularly interesting. Clyne has been amongst the most solid right-backs in the Premier League this season and will look to stick tight to Hazard – although the Belgian performed well in the reverse fixture, scoring Chelsea’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
It’s often tempting to back Hazard’s direct opponent to be booked, but Clyne has only collected three yellow cards in 26 games this season, so it might be worth steering clear.
With Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas struggling to recreate their early season form, and Nemanja Matic not fully fit, it feels like Chelsea need someone to step up and become a leader. Oscar, Willian and Cuadrado are all options, and the latter could do with a good performance following his January move from Fiorentina.
Chelsea’s right-sided player will be up against Ryan Bertrand back at his former club, however. He’s been in fine form this season, and Chelsea might struggle to get much joy down the flanks. Direct balls to Costa, who will run the channels against a high defensive line, might be the order of the day.
If Costa’s form has declined since Christmas, the same can be said of Southampton forward Pelle. All of his eight league goals this season came in 2014 – he’s now gone 11 Premier League matches without scoring. Furthermore, he might not be well-suited to this game: he always comes deep, whereas Chelsea’s backline is more worried by pace.
That’s why Mane, who opened the scoring in the reverse game, is probably the Saints’ biggest threat. All six of his Premier League goals this season have been openers – how about backing him at 13.012/1 to repeat the trick?
I don’t expect many goals here, however. These two sides have the best defensive records in the division, and furthermore, the attacking players for both teams are lacking form. I’m going to back Under 1.5 goals, at 3.55/2.
Back Sadio Mane as First Goalscorer at 13.012/1
Back Under 1.5 Goals at 1.51/2
The Betfair Trader’s View: Alan Thompson
Chelsea will need to clear their heads quickly after the midweek disaster and quickly get back to the business of winning the Premier League this weekend as they face a Southampton side still fighting for a top four finish. The title is theirs to lose (again), as Jose Mourinho’s side now top the league five points clear and a game in hand of Manchester City.
Chelsea have been making hard work of it especially at the Bridge recently with three 1-1 draws in their last four games there in all competitions (in 90 mins). However, their overall record is exceptional, unbeaten at home winning 11 of their 13 league games, they have kept nine clean sheets and scored in every game.
The Saints arrive in London on the back of a much needed, if somewhat fortuitous victory at St Mary’s last time over Crystal Palace (1-0), that victory was only their second win in their last six Premier League starts. When the Saints have faced sides above them this season (home or away) their record reads W2 L6 D1. However, they do boast the best defensive away record in the league, conceding only 10 goals in 13 games and only at Anfield on the opening day of the season have they conceded more than one away goal.
Ultimately, I do think Chelsea will have too much for Southampton but you have to respect the Saints away defensive record, for that reason I will be backing Draw/Chelsea @ 5.0 in the Half Time/Full Time market.