Southampton: Forster, Cédric, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Clasie, Davies, Long, Ward-Prowse, Mane, Pelle
Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Ivanovich, Cahill, Baba, Fabregas, Mikel, Willian, Oscar, Hazard, Diego Costa
Southampton’s season has somewhat turned around in the last 6 games. Their 4-0 defeat of Arsenal was an undoubted highlight of a pretty rubbish Christmas period that saw defeats to Tottenham, West Ham and more worryingly Norwich. Yet Koeman used the January window effectively, bringing in Charlie Austin for a snip at £4million, whilst Southampton went on to find a bit of form once more.
Their victory against Swansea last time out in the Premier League was Southampton’s 6th game unbeaten, and whilst defeat in the FA Cup all but ended any potential silverware for the season, Koeman admitted after the Swansea game that it “…looks like another great season…” for Southampton.
However, against Chelsea, I can’t imagine that Koeman will line up in the same 3-5-2 formation that he implemented against Swansea. This is a Chelsea side on the up under Hiddink and with Hazard starting to play with something that resembles good form, playing a formation that utilises a back 4 seems logical for Koeman to deal with Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1. Potentially matching Chelsea like for like in a 4-2-3-1 and through using James Ward-Prowse as a no.10 with Shane Long and Sade Mane on the wings, Southampton will have more than enough pace and vision to trouble Chelsea in the final third. The pace of Long and Mane will certainly be unsettling for a Chelsea backline, which isn’t the quickest, and if Koeman permitted a free-reign for the wide men to cut in or swap wings, Azpilicueta and Baba will certainly need to be alert in helping cover if Southampton play on the break. James Ward-Prowse who has one hell of a delivery on him at the set piece and it would be nice to see the young Englishman state a claim for a consistent run of games for the rest of the season.
The Chelsea re-building job keeps on gaining momentum under Hiddink. The Dutchman is becoming something of a specialist of fixing discord in the Chelsea dressing room, and the FA Cup has become his own little treat when he wears his Chelsea tracksuit (after winning the competition in 2009). In fact Hiddink’s record has a Chelsea manager is mightily impressive. The defeat to PSG in the Champions League marked Hiddink’s first defeat so far in his second tenure as Chelsea boss. In his first stint at Chelsea, the Dutchman amassed a win percentage of 72%; only losing once in the 22 he was in charge for. Even Guardiola’s Barcelona didn’t beat the Dutchman, as Chelsea went out on away goals in the semi-final of the Champions League.
With stats that are so impressive, you have to wonder why Hiddink isn’t being taken more seriously as a potential long term successor for Mourinho. In a world where the likes of Guardiola and Klopp will be gracing the Premier League next year (as well as Mourinho potentially), it seems that Hiddink isn’t the name that Chelsea so ardently desire. Hiddink’s record speaks volumes and to remain unbeaten in the Premier League since the 19th December is no mean feat but Abramovich still searches for that name. If the rumours are to be believed, Antonio Conte will be gracing the Stamford Bridge dugout next year. Will this provide success? It is anyone’s guess. Conte’s CV is rich in titles but he was managing a Juventus side who were head and shoulders above the rest of Serie A.
This 3pm kick-off at St Mary’s see’s arguably two of the better form sides in the country go head to head. Chelsea are improving, but draws remain an issue. Their performances are improving but a 5-1 victory against a woeful Newcastle side in the league and a 5-1 victory against a collection of City’s academy graduates means it is very hard to judge where this Chelsea side actually are at in terms of the Premier League.
Southampton on the other hand have quietly strung an impressive run of games together, and with Fraser Forster continuing in goal, it is no coincidence any improvement in form has coincided with his return. Expect a tight game but certainly don’t expect a dull affair.
Match Prediction: Southampton 1-1 Chelsea
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog
Form over the last 6 Games
All Statistics Graphics provided by Sporticos