Southampton Preview v Chelsea – Biggest test this season lies ahead for Saints

Southampton return to St. Mary’s on Sunday afternoon to face an Eden Hazard-backed Chelsea, as they continue to search for a victory to end their winless run, and their first home win of the season to lift them up the table.

The Saints have drawn two and lost one of their three home games in the league so far, throwing away their two-goal lead against Brighton on their last outing at St. Mary’s as they drew 2-2.

The loss to Wolves last week saw their performance levels improve, putting the home side on the back foot for the majority of the game, but the Midlands club were triumphant after two late goals dampened the mood on the South coast even more.

Mark Hughes expressed after the game how his side must be better in the key moments of each half after seeing his team ship goals late on. He told the Southampton press that: “we talk and talk about the key periods of every match, and that’s the opening ten minutes, the ten minutes either side of the half-time break, and clearly the last ten minutes.

“For the most part, we got three of the four right, but if you don’t get them all right then you run the risk of conceding and losing games.

“I didn’t think we deserved to lose. I think Wolves will feel quite fortunate to have the margin of victory they did, but the reality is we got beat, so we’re going to have to be better.”

They were given a spirit lift in midweek however, as they progressed to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup via a penalty shootout victory over Everton. The game itself ended 1-1, as Danny Ings’ effort in the first half was cancelled out by a late Theo Walcott equaliser to send the tie into penalties; Cedric held his nerve from the spot put his side through.

Chelsea meanwhile are yet to lose this season, winning seven of their opening ten games in all competitions, though they have drawn their last two in the league against West Ham and Liverpool respectively; the latter an intense encounter that saw Hazard’s strike shadowed by former blue Daniel Sturridge’s spectacular effort from 25 yards out to gain a point for his team.

The Blues recovered from two goals down to snatch a 3-2 victory in this fixture in April last season. Olivier Giroud extended his run of form against Southampton with two goals, with his second completing a dramatic comeback for the Londoners.

The Blues have lost just one of their previous 11 visits to St. Mary’s, winning the last three, and Maurizio Sarri could become just the sixth manager to remain unbeaten in his first eight Premier League games should his side avoid defeat on Sunday.

Saints have lost the last six meetings between these two in all competitions, with Hughes also tasting defeat in his last six managerial outings against Chelsea.

Team news

Shane Long was an injury concern for Mark Hughes going into this one, but the 31-year-old has recovered and has returned into the fold for selection after overcoming an issue with his toe. Forward options for the game are further boosted by the confirmation that Mo Elyounoussi trained comfortably during the week, and a few others with minor concerns have also come through the training week unharmed.

Chelsea have no new injury concerns, with Sarri’s side coming through their 1-0 victory in the Europa League on Thursday night unscathed. The Italian will be hoping forward Alvaro Morata can kick on after ending his mini goal drought against the Hungarian outfit, with assistant coach Gianfranco Zola saying that he’s delighted to have seen the former Juventus and Real Madrid target man score the winner on the night.

Predicted line ups:

Southampton (4-4-2): McCarthy; Cedric, Vestergaard, Hoedt, Bertrand; Elyounoussi, Hojbjerg, Lemina, Redmond; Long, Ings.

Long should expect to return to the starting XI, as fellow forward Charlie Austin failed to impress and failed to end his goal drought when he started last week against Wolves. Elyounoussi has been a solid figure for the Saints so far this season after his summer transfer, so it will be expected of him to return after his short injury lay-off.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rüdiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kanté, Jorginho, Kovačić; Willian, Giroud, Hazard.

Spanish winger Pedro was largely impressive in the Europa League win on Thursday, but Willian was even more so and was a threat against Liverpool last Saturday, so should remain as a starter going into this one. The defence will most likely remain the same after their solid outing against the Reds, as with the midfield, who were steps above the Merseyside’s middle three.

Prediction – Southampton 1-3 Chelsea

Chelsea look too strong at the moment to be overlooked for this one. Despite the Saints’ victory in midweek, the capabilities of Eden Hazard, with the form he’s in, will cause plenty of problems for Southamptons back four; the Belgian is the top scorer in the league this season with six goals. The midfield will also be a test to deal with; a combination of Kovacic’s skill, Jorginho’s passing and Kante’s relentless energy will be a powerful concoction, and will need the likes of Lemina and Hojbjerg to be the sharpest they’ve been all season in order to contain their opposition.

(Quote credits: Southampton FC)

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