A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s home Premier League match against Southampton.
Chelsea kick off 2019 with a home Premier League match against Southampton. Having won their last 2 matches of 2018 and moving 5 points clear of rivals Arsenal as they aim to consolidate 4th place, The Blues will be expecting to start the new year with another victory.
The Saints changed managers in December. Former Blue Mark Hughes was sacked on the 3rd after only eight months in charge and he was replaced by Ralph Hasenhuttl. The Austrian, who has been nicknamed the “Klopp of the Alps”, is highly rated after leading unfancied Ingolstadt to promotion to the Bundesliga in 2014-15 and then taking RB Leipzig to the runners up spot behind champions Bayern Munich two seasons ago.
His exploits meant he was being touted to take the helm at either Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund, but it was Southampton who snapped him up while he was available. He prefers his team to play with a 4-4-2 formation, with the midfield 4 playing more narrow than most sides.
Whoever Maurizio Sarri opts for in his central midfield 3 will have their work cut out to overpower the visitors midfield. However Southampton’s formation could allow for Chelsea’s full backs to play a key role. Their willingness to make forward runs could help press the visitors back.
The Blues will undoubtedly enjoy the majority of the possession and the outcome of the match will probably rely on how well they can tie it into quality goal chances.
Striker Olivier Giroud is unlikely to play after injuring his ankle against Crystal Palace on Sunday, while Pedro, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Cesc Fabregas and Danny Drinkwater will also be unavailable for selection.
This leaves Sarri with very few options for his front 3. Alvaro Morata, Eden Hazard and Willian are the only regular players available, although the Italian could opt for a left hand side comprising both Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmieri in support of a centrally positioned Hazard and Willian on the right. Another, but less likely choice would be to play Ross Barkley in a more advanced role than usual. The key will be whether the manager believes Morata will make a significant contribution as the central striker or does he stick with Hazard in that role.
The Saints are still without former Blue Ryan Bertrand and they will miss his energy and drive. They may not be the most talented side in the league, but under their new manager they have shown signs of a far improved attitude and belief. In Charlie Austin and Danny Ings they have strikers who are a real goal threat and Shane Long has regularly been a thorn in Chelsea’s side.
Having lost to Leicester City in their last home league match of 2018, The Blues will be desperate to start the new year with all 3 points. However, whichever team Sarri chooses should do well to be wary of Chelsea’s last first match of a new year at Stamford Bridge. A very frustrating night ended with Queens Park Rangers nicking an unexpected 1-0 victory back in 2013.
Surely this time, and even with a growing injury list, Sarri’s squad will have too much for their opponents. Victory would be Chelsea’s 8th consecutive triumph over Southampton, including a comfortable 3-0 score line at St Mary’s Stadium earlier this season and last season’s FA Cup semi final at Wembley. Long may that run continue.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue