Stamford Bridge rings in the new year with a top-four versus bottom-four clash. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton continue the build-up to a night-time game…
’Tis the ninth day of Christmas but does it not seem a long time since we were last at the Bridge? The two wins on the road since that Leicester defeat made it a more successful December for the Blues: six victories, one draw, and two defeats from the nine games in all competitions. Between now and May, 54 points are there for the taking, starting now.
The ninth day of Twelvetide is traditionally dedicated to brothers St Basil of Caesarea and St Gregory of Nazianzus, but it is the Saints of St Mary’s who concern us this evening.
Although Southampton’s coach Ralph Hasenhuttl has never managed a team against Chelsea, he encountered Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli while in charge of RB Leipzig in last season’s Europa League round of 32. Leipzig prevailed on away goals.
The Austrian’s surname translates as ‘Little hut of hares’ but he was brought in with the hope the Saints would avoid the little house of horrors that is relegation. Since taking charge, Hasenhuttl has won two matches but lost three. ‘Our important period of the season will come in January and February after the games against Man City and Chelsea,’ he admitted at the weekend, ‘and we have to be prepared.’
The Hampshire side have not managed a clean sheet in 10 top-flight games, but against the Blues alone that sequence extends to 17, and Sarri’s men are targeting an eighth successive victory against the visitors from the South Coast this evening.
Chelsea have beaten Southampton in each of our past seven meetings in all competitions, scoring two or more goals in all but one of those games.
— Key stat
The arrival of January allows us to compare 2018 with Chelsea’s performances over the previous six years. The 12 months just ended featured the second-highest number of games, fourth most victories, and second best tally for clean sheets.
According to OPTA, Eden Hazard closed 2018 as the player who created the most goal-scoring opportunities in the Premier League that calendar year: 101, 23 more than the next highest, Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen.
The Belgian netted 21 times last year and is scoring more prolifically than ever in this league campaign. He has reached double figures in top-flight goals four times previously – in 2013/14, 2014/15, 2016/17, and 2017/18 – but on each occasion it was February before he reached that mark.
Premier League top-scorers
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) 13
Harry Kane (Tottenham) 13
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) 13
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) 10
Sergio Aguero (Man City) 9
Richarlison (Everton) 9
Raheem Sterling (Man City) 9
Kepa Arrizabalaga earned a ninth clean sheet at Selhurst Park, his 20th league match. But how great were that raking pass to release Ross Barkley in the Palace half when the goalie was being pressed by their forwards and the 60-yard ball pinged perfectly to Marcos Alonso from his own area?
The January transfer window has now opened and will close on 31 January at 11pm UK time. In recent winters past Chelsea have brought in the likes of Demba Ba, David Luiz, Nemanja Matic and Fernando Torres, and this time last year brought the arrival of Ross Barkley, Olivier Giroud and Emerson Palmieri.
On the other hand Juan Mata departed the Bridge in 2014, Branislav Ivanovic, John Mikel Obi and Oscar left in 2017, and a year ago Diego Costa’s switch to Atletico Madrid was completed.
Before Sunday’s kick-off, Selhurst Park remembered those connected to either club who passed away in 2018 with a minute’s silence. It is a fine tradition observed at several grounds around the country on last match day of the year.
Chelsea are starting the New Year at home in the league for the first time since 2013, and there used to be a custom for such matches. This involved dignitaries from both clubs drinking a toast before kick-off from a three-handled ceramic ‘Loving Cup’, originally presented to all Division One clubs in 1937 by Stoke City’s President, Sir Francis Joseph.
Stoke was then an area renowned for its china production and the Potters had the loving cups made to commemorate the coronation of George VI in May that year. The one donated to Chelsea can be viewed in the museum at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea’s next league visitors, Rafael Benitez’s Newcastle, take on Manchester United at St James’ Park tonight, a game broadcast live on Sky Sports.
In-form Chelsea Women are back from their break this Sunday in the WSL with Everton the visitors. The two sides drew 0-0 on Merseyside back in September.
Chelsea’s academy sides return to action after the winter break on Saturday at midday. The development squad host one-from-bottom Blackburn at Cobham, while the U18s are at Leicester’s training ground
2019 is another year replete with anniversaries and glorious memories. On 15 April it will be 75 years since the Pensioners reached Wembley for the first time in the Football League (South) Cup final (15 April 1944), on the 22nd it will be 30 years since Chelsea gained immediate promotion back to the top flight (Chelsea 1 Leeds 0, 22 April 1989), and on the 26th it will 100 years since the Pensioners beat Fulham 3-0 at Highbury to win the London Victory Cup (26 April 1919).
When 14 May comes round it will mark 25 years since Chelsea’s first FA Cup final appearance since 1970, against Man United (14 May 1994), the 16th will be the 20th anniversary of the Blues finishing in third place – the highest finish since 1970 – and qualifying for Champions League for the first time (16 May 1999), and on the 30th of the month it will be 10 years to the day that the Londoners beat Everton 2-1 in the FA Cup final (30 May 2009).
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS WEEKEND…
Starting 2019 how we mean to go on…
Premier League fixtures
Bournemouth v Watford 7.45pm
Chelsea v Southampton 7.45pm
Huddersfield v Burnley 7.45pm
West Ham v Brighton 7.45pm
Wolves v Crystal Palace 7.45pm
Newcastle v Manchester United 8pm - Sky Sports
Manchester City v Liverpool 8pm - Sky Sports