Chelsea laboured to a one-nil win away at Crystal Palace in their last match. In the aftermath of that win, the Blues were left with six first-team players injured.
If you saw the game, you’d have noticed Olivier Giroud hobbling off with an ankle problem in the 76th minute. Maurizio Sarri said his side suffered three injuries in 10 minutes to Cesc Fabregas, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Danny Drinkwater a day prior to the Palace trip.
With injury concerns to Pedro and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Sarri opined his team is in trouble with the January fixture pile-up.
Meanwhile, Southampton have a couple of injury setbacks of their own. Mario Lemina called in with an abdominal injury while Michael Obafemi’s muscle problem makes him a doubt. The most painful absentee for the Saints would be Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. The Southampton captain was red carded in the dying moments of the defeat to Manchester City.
For a top-six side and title-contender, Chelsea’s form with two losses and four wins from their last six games makes them a little inconsistent. The Blues have slipped 11 points behind red-hot Liverpool in the title race. But they remain in pole position to finish among the top four having pulled five points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal.
They’re 17th in the table, but Southampton remain very much in the relegation battle. They’ve only managed 15 points all season, which is just as terrible as 18th-placed Burnley. The Saints has lost four of the last six and conceded 12 goals in that period. Ralph Hasenhuttl has a gap to plug in his back line.
Saints must defend valiantly
Southampton have a problem with their defence, they allow way too many goals for their own good. They had a similar challenge last season but eventually avoided the drop. They might not be so lucky this campaign. As things stand, Southampton have the joint-third worst defence in the division. In fact, the Saints have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 10 outings.
Up against a team with flair and attacking brilliance like Chelsea, more questions will be asked of that Southampton rearguard. Saints won’t get anything from this game unless they do a decent job at the back.
We shouldn’t dump all the rubble on the doorstep of the defenders. It’s time for Southampton’s midfielders to chip in with more defensive action. Take Oriol Romeu, for instance. Over the last six matches, the Spaniard has only amassed 2,643 points for defensive actions, according to Twelve’s system.
Compare with Chelsea’s Jorginho. A pass master often faulted for his inability to close down opponents as quickly as he should. But the Italian has garnered 3,052 points for defensive actions over the last six games.
It’s worrying that among the other Southampton midfielders who could feature, it’s Romeu who puts in the most defensive work. And he doesn’t even better Jorginho. This is perhaps why Southampton defend like schoolboys; they just don’t get enough shielding from their midfield.
Romeo and whoever Hasenhuttl decides to pair with him in midfield must be ready to get their socks dirty doing defensive duties.
Kante adjusting fine
I’d like to commend N’Golo Kante for how he’s adjusted to a more attacking role in Chelsea’s midfield. Like many other analysts, I was against the Frenchman being played out of position in favour of Jorginho, but he’s beginning to come good.
With three goals this campaign, Kante has now recorded his highest number of goals in a single season. He won the game for Chelsea at Selhurst Park and could do even more damage against Southampton.
Eden Hazard needs bigger shoulders
Sarri has confirmed it. He prefers Hazard to Alvaro Morata as a centre-forward, or false nine if you prefer. The Belgian is carrying Chelsea and doing so efficiently. We don’t need to show you any stat to prove he’s Chelsea’s best player this campaign.
But more will be required of Hazard if Southampton take my advice and defend properly. This could be a difficult match for the nimble-footed attacker.