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EPL Match Preview: Southampton vs Chelsea

Southampton's Dutch defender Jos Hooiveld (2nd R) clears the ball under pressure from Chelsea's French-born Senegalese striker Demba Ba (2nd L) during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge in London, on January 16, 2013. The game finished 2-2.

Southampton’s Dutch defender Jos Hooiveld (2nd R) clears the ball under pressure from Chelsea’s French-born Senegalese striker Demba Ba (2nd L) during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge in London, on January 16, 2013. The game finished 2-2.

Relegation-threatened Southampton face Chelsea on Saturday at the Saint Mary’s stadium in what could turn out to be a very crucial fixture for both sides. Southampton are fresh from an unexpected 3-1 victory over Liverpool before the international break, while Chelsea face a mammoth fixture pile-up and are due to play an unreasonable four games in the span of a week. The home side will look to continue their recent excellent record against top sides, having beaten City and Liverpool, but will be hard-pressed to beat a Chelsea side which experiencing a good run of form. Rafa Benitez has an unenviable job of rotating his squad to perfection given the even more important FA Cup clash against rivals Manchester United on Monday.

Team News

Southampton

The Saints will be fretting over the condition of captain Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Jos Hooiveld, who are all nursing minor injuries ahead of Chelsea’s visit. Lallana was excellent against Liverpool, and the Argentine manager will be hoping that his captain will be fit for the crucial clash. Other than these players, the home side should name a completely unchanged line-up.

Vegard Forren could be in line to make his debut for the side.

Chelsea

This is the game that kicks off a congested week for Chelsea, and it is a game that they will have to win to put some distance between them and Spurs. Rafa Benitez is likely to rest some key players ahead of the United clash, and it impossible to picture his starting line-up come Saturday. Fernando Torres didn’t figure in Spain’s plans during the break; and being fresher than most, he is likely to start as a solitary forward. Benitez could be tempted to rest Juan Mata, with Victor Moses more likely to start. Captain John Terry could also be handed a rare start, with Gary Cahill struggling with a knee injury.

Preview

Southampton sit four points clear of the relegation zone for now, but 18th placed Wigan Athletic have a game in hand. The Saints dug themselves into a hole by sacking Nigel Adkins. Consecutive wins over Chelsea and Liverpool would boost their morale greatly and would give them greater confidence going into the run-in period. However, the Saints do need to start winning games against the teams around them in the table to ensure that they are still in the Premier League next season.

Given Chelsea’s congested fixture load, the chances of them naming a weaker team is high – something that could work in the home side’s favour. However, given the depth of the away side’s squad, this will not be an easy match by any means. 31-year-old top scorer Rickie Lambert will be looked upon to lead the battle; having just signed a contract extension, he would be particularly eager to stay as far away from the Championship spots as possible.

Southampton will be looking to Ricky Lambert to lead the way

Southampton will be looking to Ricky Lambert to lead the way

Former Chelsea trainee Jack Cork will be looking to best his old side having recently commented that their lack of faith in their youth players could cost them in the future, especially with the legendary Frank Lampard on the verge of a summer exit.

With Tottenham hot on their heels, slip-ups will be costly for Chelsea. The turbulent reign of Rafa Benitez could yet have a silver lining, with second place in sight and two trophies to play for. Lampard will be looking to add to his tally of 200 goals for the Blues, just two goals short of Chelsea’s all  time top scorer Bobby Tambling. The Blues should also be wary of Jay Rodriguez after his excellent performance against Liverpool; Gaston Ramirez can cause problems as well, despite having not being his best since his move from Bologna.

Interesting Facts

- Demba Ba has had four shots on target against Southampton as a Blue. He’s scored three of them.

- Southampton have the dubious record of most own goals scored – five.

- Southampton haven’t beaten Chelsea in the league in ten years. The last match they won was a 4-2 victory at Stamford Bridge on New Year’s Day, 2002.

- Lambert has created 62 goalscoring chances in open play, only bettered by three other players in Europe’s top five leagues.

- The Saints have dropped a league high 27 points from winning positions.

Prediction

The Blues are in for a stern test at the South Coast, and Lambert is almost guaranteed to cause problems for the back four. However, despite the fixture pile-up, the away side should be taking all three points back to London; but victory will not come easily.

Southampton 1-2 Chelsea

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