After a couple of dodgy results, Chelsea have picked up all six points from two tricky London derbies at Watford and Crystal Palace.
In doing so they’ve opened a nice 5 point gap over Arsenal and are on Tottenham’s shirt tails. Southampton are the visitors to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening and they’ll arrive off the back of a 3-1 home defeat to Manchester City.
Rotation to Maurizio Sarri is changing his brand of cigarettes, however, he did at least re-instate a bonafide striker in Olivier Giroud at the head of Chelsea’s attack at Selhurst Park. Ross Barkley started the game in place of Mateo Kovacic. Eden Hazard returned to his favoured wide position and as a result, the front three looked infinitely better balanced. Giroud was unlucky to not pick up two goals being adjudged marginally offside for both having finished each incredibly well.
Southampton have had a change of manager this season but not a change of fortune, although they did beat Arsenal just before Christmas. They are teetering on the edge of the relegation zone and Ralph Hasenhuttl is still bedding into Premier League management. With Manchester United rejuvenated under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Liverpool and Manchester City likely to make up the top two spots in May, every point will be crucial for Sarri’s men. That begs the question as to how the Blues will line up.
Goalkeeper – Obviously Kepa Arrizabalaga will be protecting Chelsea’s goal. Only injury will prevent him from being a Premier League ever-present. Against Palace, he didn’t have to deal with one shot on target. However, he kept his concentration and was alert when he needed to be. Since his arrival, he’s done very little wrong despite the media, at times, trying to imply otherwise.
Defence – It’s difficult to see the back four changing either. The Marcos Alonso over Emerson argument goes on, but with an FA Cup game coming up, Emerson is more likely to start that game. As such, Alonso keeps his place against the Saints alongside the un-drop-able, un-rest-able Antonio Rudiger, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta.
Midfield – Despite his spectacular overhead kick that almost gave him a goal, Ross Barkley will find himself back on the bench – or will he, see attack – in favour Mateo Kovacic. Jorginho writes his own name on the team sheet before Sarri gets a hold of it and N’golo Kante is like two players, one of which can score, so they’re both in. Ruben Loftus-Cheek may make the bench, injury permitting and Cesc Fabregas may take a break from packing his bags to join him.
Attack – Having picked up an injury, Olivier Giroud was replaced by Alvaro Morata in the Palace game. Reports suggested el español had all the enthusiasm of a child unwrapping a Christmas present that was soft and squishy – and pants sized – during his half-time warm-up. Giroud did well having started but the ankle injury will likely see Eden Hazard resume his unfavoured false nine role. Sadly, Morata’s head seems elsewhere.
If Pedro doesn’t make the game, having picked up a hamstring injury against Watford, Sarri has a problem. Obviously, Willian makes the starting XI. That leaves one spot up for grabs. The obvious choice for most would be Callum Hudson-Odoi, but he too is an injury doubt. Sarri has experimented with Ruben Loftus-Cheek playing an advanced role in the Europa League game against BATE Borisov, so if fit he’s an option.
Ideally, it would be Callum Hudson-Odoi starting. For whichever reason though, it remains unlikely for me. Most likely to step into Pedro’s boots will be Ross Barkley. He had a run out against Palace and showed he knows where the goal is.
When Chelsea kick-off at Stamford Bridge at 19:45 on Wednesday evening, both Arsenal and Spurs will have played and Sarri and his team will know exactly what they have do in regard to their rivals from North London. Come on Chelsea, let’s get those three points.
Arrizabalaga, Alonso, Rudiger, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic, Barkley, Willian, Hazard
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