Sunday October 30th 16:00 GMT
The late game on Sunday sees Chelsea travel to the sunny south to take on a Southampton team who are quietly yet effectively going about their business. Much the same can be said about Chelsea of late, their midweek loss in the League Cup notwithstanding. Both these clubs can claim to have excellent managers in place and it will be fascinating to see how they both progress over the season.
This column has probably spent too much time of late waxing lyrical about Southampton but sometimes it’s worth repeating yourself so bear with us. Last weekend, the Saints visited the mighty Manchester City and, although they were under the cosh toward the end and needed to stoutly defend their line, they came away with the draw and even had chances to grab an unlikely win. Over the last five league games, only two teams have secured more points than Southampton and neither of those are Chelsea.
The no blues Blues
The Londoners aren’t too far behind them, in fairness. If we were to extrapolate form over the past three league games, Chelsea would be out on top with a 100% win record. This winning streak has coincided with their switch to a three man defense and consequently re-jigged formation, a tactical tweak that has seen Victor Moses re-invented as a wing-back and a bloody good one at that. It has also meant that Eden Hazard is operating in a more central area of the pitch and has less defensive work to see to.
Solving the puzzle
Getting the best from your best players and coaxing excellent performances from players previously on the fringe is the mark of a manager beginning to settle in nicely with regard to understanding the meeting point between his ideas and the abilities of his players. After a relatively unsteady start, things are clicking into place nicely at Chelsea and if they continue on this trajectory, they will be serious contenders to win this league.
For those of you with an eye for tactical engagements, this tie has the makings of a fascinating duel. Southampton have at times made use of an effective diamond formation which has seen Dusan Tadic operate more centrally to good effect. Charlie Austin finds himself in a hot streak in front of goal whilst Chelsea cast-off, Oriol Romeu, is really impressing at the base of midfield. Keeping an eye on the excellent Hazard for the full 90 minutes will be quite a test for the young man but he has his manager’s confidence and will relish the challenge.
If the Saints do employ a diamond, expect Moses and Marcos Alonso to keep wide in an attempt to stretch a tight Southampton middle. With the form Moses is in of late, Southampton would do well to keep tight on him because if he can get some quality crosses into the box, Diego Costa is in sharp enough form to finish most of them off.
Going by recent form, this column would back Chelsea to finish off most teams but Southampton are different. As a team, they display a clear understanding of what is required from their shape and roles when in defense and in possession and rarely seem flustered. They are strong from front to back and are confident in those around them and the man on the sideline. As good as Chelsea are at the moment, they will have their work cut out for them here. The bookies probably have it right with Chelsea as favourites, this column reckons a draw might be the outcome. Best price there is 27/11 from MarathonBet.