The first of back-to-back away games against red-and-white opposition takes us to England's South Coast and a meeting with the Saints. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton analyse all the key talking points ahead of an early start on Saturday...
Chelsea will dock at a favourite port, Southampton, this Saturday lunchtime. Launching the weekend’s football with a win would place the Blues one point behind third-placed Leicester, who travel to Aston Villa on Sunday.
With the Champions League returning on Tuesday, head coach Thomas Tuchel will be eager to build on a very promising start to his tenure at the Stamford Bridge helm. So far, he has gained 13 points from the first five Premier League games, a tally only bettered in west London by Carlo Ancelotti and Maurizio Sarri, who claimed the full quote of 15.
Saints have lost their past six in the top flight and Chelsea’s run of five successive league victories at St Mary’s is the best sequence of any visiting team in Southampton’s history. But there is no room for complacency as clubs head into the final third of the league campaign with so much still to play for.
Chelsea are targeting a sixth successive Premier League victory at St Mary’s against Southampton.
— Key Stat
Chelsea team news
Thomas Tuchel’s man-management has been to the fore in his first month at Stamford Bridge. The new coach has restored players who had been less involved recently, drafting in the likes of Marcos Alonso, Toni Rudiger and Andreas Christensen not out of conceit but pragmatism to suit his needs; likewise the central midfield pairing of Jorginho and Mateo Kovavic.
After saying ‘we need a strong Kepa in our squad’ when Arrizabalaga kept a clean sheet at Barnsley in the cup, the Bavarian was justified in keeping faith with the goalkeeper for the visit of Newcastle, allowing Edou Mendy to rest and recharge his batteries.
Despite the Spaniard’s first league clean sheet since Norwich in July, Mendy will be back between the sticks this weekend, Tuchel confirmed, saying, ‘He is the number one.’ The idea of all this will be to motivate each squad member by seeing the quality of the man who might replace them.
We have also witnessed Tuchel’s detailed tactical analysis and perhaps there have been calculated risks in the teams selected against certain opponents. Saints’ highly effective pressing game could present the sternest test yet for his team, especially in central midfield, where we may see N’Golo Kante’s first league start under the new coach.
Where the head coach has concerns is the lack of precision in final-third passes and touches, moments that can upgrade an opening into a clear goalscoring opportunity. He wants the Blues to be more ‘deadly.’
Alongside the statistical improvements he has observed – notably average goals conceded plummeting from 1.2 per game to 0.2 – Tuchel will want to lift the current 1.4 successful strikes per game to the 1.7 prior to his arrival.
Achieving that has become harder with the ankle injury sustained by leading marksman Tammy Abraham in what looked a penalty-award challenge by Jamaal Lascelles. Happily the other two strikers involved on Monday weighed in.
Timo Werner, playing in an inside-left/number 10 role, had a big hand in Olivier Giroud’s opener then found the rigging himself for the first time in the league since November. Werner netted twice in the reverse fixture.
The St Mary’s fixture was pencilled in for Thiago Silva’s comeback from injury and if the centre-back does return it will be interesting to see who drops out, with Andreas Christensen impressing as his replacement, and the Atletico match in Romania to come on Tuesday. Returning to training with the Brazilian was Kai Havertz, who has not featured for four matches.
Match referee Anthony Taylor, meanwhile, has not been a lucky charm for the Blues, with controversies in both FA Cup finals he has handled and three straight losses in his care.
At Christmas Southampton players Oriol Romeu, Jan Bednarek, and James Ward-Prowse occupied three of the top four places for winning the ball from an opponent. That has since dropped away, as did the final-third pressing that powered Saints to the top of the league in early November.
Other than sprightly loan singing Takumi Minamino in for injured Theo Walcott and Nathan Redmond starting ahead of Che Adams, the same team that was doing so well back then lined up at home to Wolves for another straight loss.
Their energetic approach can be draining, though, and this has been an exceptionally intensive season. Having beaten Wanderers in the FA Cup a few days earlier, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side looked weary of mind and body in the second half of last weekend’s league meeting.
Injuries have played a large part in Saints’ fall from grace – ‘a never-ending story of this season’ according to their coach – and Kyle Walker-Peters’ setback after his brief return on Sunday is a big blow for the Austrian.
He has road-tested Kayne Ramsay, Jack Stephens, Yan Valery (now at Birmingham), and James Ward-Prowse at right-back in the lively 23-year-old’s absence, but seems unconvinced by any of them.
This could be a decisive battle zone, where a confident Timo Werner can interchange with Marcos Alonso (or indeed Ben Chilwell) to elude and open up opponents, as happened to great effect against Newcastle.
The Hampshire side play an offside trap that has snared the opposition more times than any defence except Liverpool and Fulham, however no side has been flagged offside as many times this season as the Saints, with Danny Ings and Che Adams the main offenders.
The ‘expected goal conceded’ statistics this season suggest goalkeeper Alex McCarthy is either unlucky or should be saving more of the shots he has faced. At the other end, though, Saints have netted five times in their past 10 top-flight games compared to 22 in the previous 10.
How to watch Chelsea vs Southampton
This match will be covered live by BT Sport in the UK. To find the relevant broadcaster where you are, see the Premier League’s broadcast schedule pages.
The Premier League has confirmed all matches will be broadcast live for the remainder of the 2020/21 season unless Government guidance allows supporters back in stadiums.
Chelsea TV’s Blue-centric pre- and post-match shows, including early team news, exclusive interviews and analysis, can be found on the 5th Stand app, Facebook Live, and the official YouTube channel.
Chelsea on the South Coast
England’s southern coast has delivered plenty of happy day-trips for Chelsea over the years. The Blues have won three of the four top-flight to Brighton, three out of five at Bournemouth (though none of the past two), 11 of 30 at Portsmouth, and 18 of 35 at the home of their neighbours Southampton.
Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse is hailed as one of the top-flight’s sharpest shooters from a dead ball. His strike against Newcastle, his fourth of the season, placed him eighth in the all-time Premier League list for direct free kicks.
However there is more than one way to score from a set-piece, and Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma has matched that tally by being on the other end of the delivery, two of them in collusion with Mason Mount, one of the Blues’ dead-ball maestros. Another Saints player, Jannik Vestergaard, has managed three, including a stoppage-time header in the 3-3 draw at the Bridge.
Premier League goals from set-pieces 2020/21
Dominic Calvert-Lewin 8
James Ward-Prowse 4
Kurt Zouma 4
Tomas Soucek 4
Tuchel’s old adversaries
Each of Thomas Tuchel’s next three league games will be against coaches he faced in his career prior to arriving at Chelsea: Ralph Hasenhuttl, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and Carlo Ancelotti.
The most recent encounter with the Southampton boss came four years ago this month, Tuchel’s Dortmund dominating the Austrian’s RB Leipzig team but having just a single goal to show for it. The Bavarian has won three of their four previous encounters, and his assistant at Chelsea, Zsolt Low, was formerly in Hasenhuttl’s backroom staff.
Besides the Everton and Manchester United incumbents, Tuchel has crossed swords with Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. The away trips to Liverpool and Manchester City are still to come, but should the rearranged Reds meeting be set for midweek between the Toffees and Red Devils, the Blues’ head coach will face four old adversaries in a row.
|Ancelotti||6 played||2 won||2 drawn||2 lost|
Chelsea have played just three matches in daylight so far this year, but that is about to change. This game will be played just past midday and now we know the FA Cup quarter-final at the Bridge against Sheffield United has been confirmed for 1.30pm on Sunday 21 March, live on BBC One. As the days grow longer, from now on any match kicking off at 3pm or earlier will finish in glorious sunshine. We hope.
Atletico on the double
In a repeat of the men’s fate, Chelsea Women were matched with Atletico Madrid in the Women’s Champions League round of 16 draw on Wednesday.
It is a tough assignment for Emma Hayes’s WSL leaders, though last season’s quarter-finalists in the competition are currently off the pace domestically. The tie will be played over two legs on 3 or 4 and 10 or 11 March. The final is set for Gothenburg, Sweden, on 16 May.
Atletico’s men’s team have drawn two of their past three games after a 1-1 at Levante on Wednesday, but remain top of the Primera.
Premier League fixtures
Wolves v Leeds - 8pm (BT Sport)
Southampton v Chelsea - 12.30pm (BT Sport)
Burnley v West Brom - 3pm (Sky Sports)
Liverpool v Everton - 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
Fulham v Sheffield Utd - 8pm (Sky Sports)
West Ham v Tottenham - 12pm (Sky Sports)
Aston Villa v Leicester - 2pm (Sky Sports)
Arsenal v Man City - 4.30pm (Sky Sports)
Man Utd v Newcastle - 7pm (BT Sport)
Brighton v Crystal Palace - 8pm (Sky Sports)
Leeds v Southampton - 6pm (Sky Sports)
|5||West Ham United||24||12||6||6||37||28||9||42|
|19||West Bromwich Albion||24||2||7||15||19||55||-36||13|