Saturday brings a second visit to St Mary's in 2013. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician herald the return of club football action…
Chelsea have had no club match for 12 days but the next dozen bring five games in rapid succession. The testing schedule begins with this vital trip to St Mary's against a side still not certain of Premier League safety, and is swiftly followed by the latest defence of our FA Cup title at home to Manchester United on Easter Monday.
The Blues will become the first Premier League team since Middlesbrough in 2006 to play two games between weekend fixtures. Three days later Rubin Kazan come calling in the UEFA Europa League, before Sunderland arrive at the Bridge next Sunday.
Easter 2011 was treated like a normal football league weekend, as were 2010 and 2008. In 2005 the Blues had the whole of Easter free. Saturday/Monday was the tradition going back through the decades, building the spring festival's reputation for making or breaking campaigns.
Chelsea are still a long way from our most concentrated flurry of games: in 1956 Roy Bentley and the boys managed six matches in 15 days, including four cup replays with Burnley.
Last time out, against his old club West Ham, Frank Lampard became only the second Chelsea player in 108 years to achieve the 200 goals milestone. He also netted for England against San Marino, becoming the highest-scoring midfielder for his country.
Others were able to enjoy the pause from the hurly burly of England's top flight. Five players were training at Cobham over the last two weeks, with several rest days scheduled in. Importantly Fernando Torres, one of just two strikers at the club for the run-in, was one of them.
Demba Ba travelled to West Africa and played 77 minutes of one game for Senegal. Stoke and Wigan are the only sides against whom Ba has scored more than Southampton; all three have come in a Chelsea shirt, including two on his debut at St Mary's.
In this of all weeks Rafael Benitez will juggle his squad to retain competitiveness and freshness. The policy has worked in the last few weeks. Only Manchester United and Arsenal are hotter in terms of current form.
Over the last eight matches Southampton have performed virtually the same as Wigan and QPR, who currently occupy two of the three relegation slots.
The Saints are eight points shy of the 38 most managers accept will guarantee Premier League safety this season, with eight games to play. They may play 28 games fewer than the visitors this weekend.
Mauricio Pochettino has won two of his eight games in charge since Nigel Adkins' departure - against Manchester City and Liverpool. Perhaps his most impressive achievement to date has been to continue seamlessly the good spirit and playing style of his predecessor, as well as his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
The south coasters might argue Chelsea's 5-1 win over Adkins' team at St Mary's in the FA Cup slightly flattered the Londoners. Southampton had taken the lead but it was Chelsea who rallied powerfully either side of half time to reach Round 4 of the FA Cup.
The 2-2 at the Bridge in the league soon after suggested nothing should be taken for granted, though. The Saints' impressive, Chelsea-supporting full-backs, Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw, were allowed to raid down their flanks in the second half. Slack defending and sucker punches from Rickie Lambert and Jason Puncheon pegged the Blues back from a 2-0 half-time lead.
Should central defender Jos Hooiveld score another own goal this season it will set a new Premier League record. He has notched three so far, equalling Andreas Jakobsson - also of Southampton - in 2004/05, John Paintsil (Fulham) 2010/11 and Scott Dann (Blackburn) last season. The most ever in a single season was five by Middlesbrough's Robert Stuart in 1934/35.
Chelsea have a mixed record in the games that follow international fixtures, wins at White Hart Lane and home to Wigan countered by the stalemate at QPR and defeat at West Brom.
Slips such as the home draw with Southampton mean the Blues have little margin for error in the league, despite having a game in hand over fourth-placed Tottenham.
Our Lilywhite rivals have 54 points after 30 matches whereas last season at the same juncture they had accrued 55. The Blues had 49 after 29, six fewer than today.
Spurs have what might appear a tricky test in Swansea away, though the Welsh side have lost two in three since their Capital One Cup final glory and their minds might already be fixed on the beaches of Rhyl or Prestatyn.
Arsenal host Reading, who recently dumped their manager, the former Gunner Brian McDermott. The Royals' new coach is Adkins, formerly of Southampton. Everton entertain a Stoke side that have won once in 14 games.
|The race for the Champions League - Games remaining|
|Chelsea (9)||Arsenal (9)||Tottenham (8)|
|Southampton (a)||Reading (h)||Swansea (a)|
|Sunderland (h)||West Brom (a)||Everton (h)|
|Tottenham (h)||Norwich (h)||Chelsea (a)|
|Fulham (a)||Everton (h)||Man City (h)|
|Liverpool (a)||Fulham (a)||Wigan (a)|
|Swansea (h)||Man Utd (h)||Southampton (h)|
|Man Utd (a)||QPR (a)||Stoke (a)|
|Aston Villa (a)||Wigan (h)||Sunderland (h)|
|Everton (h)||Newcastle (a)|
At this stage of the season the teeth start to grind and the hunger for silverware begins to gnaw. No one would choose to face fierce rivals or a highly motivated outfit desperate to avoid the drop from the Premier League just as the bounteous new TV deal arrives.
Better to face the ships becalmed in mid-table with nothing to play for. On the other hand, sides who have had the stress removed from their season sometimes play with freedom and no fear.
Chelsea have three targets remaining. It could still be a remarkable season and not just a uniquely intense one.
Barclays Premier League fixtures
Sunderland v Manchester United 12.45pm - Sky Sports
Arsenal v Reading 3pm
Manchester City v Newcastle 3pm
Southampton v Chelsea 3pm
Swansea v Tottenham 3pm
West Ham v West Brom 3pm
Wigan v Norwich 3pm
Everton v Stoke 5.30pm - ESPN
Aston Villa v Liverpool 1.30pm - Sky Sports
Fulham v QPR 8pm - Sky Sports
|Barclays Premier League table|
Race for the Premier League Golden Glove
Joe Hart (Manchester City) 13
Petr Cech 11
Asmir Begovic (Stoke) 10
Simon Mignolet (Sunderland) 9
Pepe Reina (Liverpool) 9
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WE HAVE HISTORY
Chelsea are hoping to extend our unbeaten record against Southampton to nine games. It is a fixture that has been played since 1924, for many years at The Dell.
There was a right ding-dong at that very stadium between our two sides in January 1968, with the mid-table Blues putting on a vibrant attacking display. Advantage see-sawed between the two sides, though.
Mick Channon opened the scoring from close range on eight minutes from a Ken Jones cross, but shrewd Scot Charlie Cooke caught Saints keeper Forsyth cold with a sharp 25-yarder to level before the half-hour.
Dave Sexton's side then took command in a devastating 15-minute spell. Winger Cooke was involved again in the next two goals, crossing for Tommy Baldwin (pictured below) to flick in from close range with his head, then taking the ball off Peter Osgood's toes, carousing 40 yards and planting the ball at Bobby Tambling's feet for a simple tap-in. Johnny Boyle made it 4-1 with a powerful drive that whisked past Baldwin's boot en route to goal, flummoxing the keeper.
Controversy surrounded the goal that brought Southampton some hope midway through the second period. Ron Davies's shot was deflected off Ron Harris and past Tommy Hughes in the Pensioners' goal. (Peter Bonetti had 'flu.)
Before that move began, though, Tambling took a blow in the face and lay prone, face down in mud, in the opposition goalmouth. 'I was hit by a bunch of fives,' said the forward afterwards, feeling the lump on his jaw.
A few minutes later the Blues made it five, Osgood converting from Tambling's pass. The last word went to the Saints, Davies grabbing his second - and sixth that season against the Londoners - with a header. Final score: 5-3.
Chelsea have won four and drawn once at St Mary's Stadium on our five previous visits in all competitions.
The Saints last win against the Blues was at Stamford Bridge on New Year's Day 2002 when three second-half goals from Marian Pahars, Chris Marsden and James Beattie gave Southampton a 4-2 win. Eidur Gudjohnsen and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had put the Blues 2-1 up after Beattie opened the scoring in the seventh minute.
Their last win on home soil was in November 2000 at the Dell when a brace from James Beattie and Jo Tessem helped them to a 3-2 victory. Dennis Wise and Gus Poyet scored for the visitors
Our last 10 league meetings at Southampton
1995/96 - Chelsea won 3-2
1996/97 - Drew 0-0
1997/98 - Southampton won 1-0
1998/99 - Chelsea won 2-0
1999/00 - Chelsea won 2-1
2000/01 - Southampton won 3-2
2001/02 - Chelsea won 2-0
2002/03 - Drew 1-1
2003/04 - Chelsea won 1-0
2004/05 - Chelsea won 3-1
Our other meetings this season
16 January 2013 Barclays Premier League
Ba 25 Lambert 57
Hazard 45 Puncheon 74
5 January 2013 FA Cup third round
Rodriguez 21 Ba 35, 61
Lampard 82 pen
Chelsea v Southampton in all competitions
Games played 90
Chelsea wins 36
Saints wins 28
Head to head in the League at The Dell and St Mary's Stadium
Games played 38
Chelsea wins 15
Saints wins 12
Biggest league win at Southampton for each team
Southampton 0-3 Chelsea - 03/09/1966
Southampton 5-0 Chelsea - 01/02/1969
Chelsea won away in the Premier League: 77
Southampton beat Chelsea: 4,106
Arsenal won a trophy: 2,869
Liverpool won the league: 8,364
Visit again tomorrow for part two of the Briefing.