Chelsea would get within four points of second place Manchester City with victory at home to Southampton in the Premier League on Wednesday (7.45pm GMT).
The Blues were comfortable 4-0 victors away to Stoke City at the weekend, benefiting from two own goals. They also impressed with the incisiveness of their attacking play, which saw them have twice as many shots on target as their hosts.
The win ended Stoke’s unbeaten record at home this season and offered some respite for Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez after two defeats in the club’s previous three matches had brought about the return of the vitriol he bore from supporters earlier in his reign.
The three points saw Chelsea move back ahead of Tottenham Hotspur into third place in the Premier League table with 41 points from 12 wins, five draws and four defeats. It was the Blues fifth league victory since Benitez replaced Roberto Di Matteo in mid-November, but the fourth of those to come away from home.
Chelsea have struggled at Stamford Bridge since Benitez took charge, winning once, drawing twice and losing once in the Premier League and also suffering a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Swansea in the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final. They have failed to score in four of his five domestic home matches to date.
The Blues subjected Wednesday’s opponents Southampton to a 5-1 mauling when they met in the third round of the FA Cup in the first week of January, but that match, like the win over Stoke, and those over Sunderland, Norwich City and Everton, came away from Stamford Bridge.
Demba Ba made his debut in that fixture and immediately appeared to offer much more than Fernando Torres, the previously uncontested occupant of the lone striker berth. Livelier and more robust than the Spaniard, Ba scored twice and made a big contribution to the team. He moved intelligently and used his strength to hold the ball and bring others into play.
Ba is yet to start for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and Southampton will surely be praying that his well-documented knee problems preclude him appearing from the start. His attributes could well make the difference for Chelsea in matches against away teams who sit back and play for a point.
Southampton also obtained three points at the weekend, securing a first win in five league matches with a deserved 1-0 triumph away to Aston Villa. It was only their second away victory of the season, a record they will need to improve upon if they wish to pull away from the relegation scrap.
The Saints are currently 15th in the table, two points clear of the bottom three, with 21 points from five wins, six draws and 10 defeats.
Nigel Adkins’ men were shipping goals for fun at the start of the season, conceding 28 in their first ten matches of the campaign, but have improved significantly in more recent times, conceding just 10 times in their last 11.
The consistent selection of Nathanial Clyne, Jose Fonte, Maya Yoshida and Luke Shaw played a big role in this improvement. The four gelled into a competent defensive unit, with Fonte and Yoshida forming a particularly impressive partnership in the centre.
Even with Fonte injured on Saturday, Southampton were still able to keep a clean sheet against Aston Villa, with Jos Hooiveld doing a decent job in his absence. However, with Shaw now joining Fonte on the treatment table it will be interesting to see if they can keep their defensive improvement going.
Adkins’ side have performed decently at the other end of the pitch, scoring 28 times to date – the 11th best record in the Premier League.
Rickie Lambert has scored nine of them and has generally adapted well to the Premier League, scoring at a rate (0.43 goals per match) that although not equal to his Championship rate (0.64) is nevertheless a good return for a striker in a relegation-threatened side.
Southampton will, though, need another player to step up to the mark in the remainder of the campaign if they are to get the goals necessary to secure them another season in the top flight. Having had half a season to settle in England, £12 million man Gaston Ramirez, currently the club’s second highest scorer with three goals to his name, would appear the best bet.
Chelsea v Southampton Betting Tips
Chelsea have laboured at home during Benitez’s reign to date and will not find easy opponents in a Southampton side who have been well organised on their travels over the last couple of months, only once losing by more than a goal.
The Blues carry enough of an offensive threat to suggest they should be able to emerge victorious, but we do not expect to see a margin of victory as large as the four goals that separated the teams in their FA Cup encounter earlier this month.
- Back Southampton +2 on the Asian Handicap @ 7/9 with Pinnacle. If Southampton win, draw or lose by a single goal the bet pays out. If they lose by two your stake is returned.
- Southampton will understand the importance of preventing Chelsea taking an early lead, something they did in their only home victory under Benitez to date, an 8-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. We therefore suggest backing “Chelsea – no goal before 29 minutes” @ 5/6 with Bet365.