Chelsea and Southampton meet for the second time in two weeks on Sunday for an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. The stakes are much higher than a week ago since both sides are one win away from having a chance to win a trophy this season.
Just a week ago at St. Mary’s, Chelsea overcame a 2-0 deficit to defeat Southampton 3-2 courtesy of two goals from Olivier Giroud on either side of a goal from Eden Hazard.
During that eight-minute spell, Southampton seemed to lose the composure and organization that they had shown for 70 minutes in that match, and they will need to summon those qualities once again if they are to beat a Chelsea team that has seemingly regained a bit of their confidence after two wins on the spin.
The question for Southampton is, how seriously do they take a trip to Wembley with a chance to appear in an FA Cup final? While the final is definitely important, Southampton are in the midst of a tight relegation battle.
Depending on other results, including Swansea City’s trip to the Etihad Stadium to face a party atmosphere against the 2017-2018 Premier League champions Manchester City, Southampton could find themselves six points from safety with just four matches to play.
Southampton manager Mark Hughes will likely put out a fairly strong team on Sunday, but with such a tight turnaround time from Thursday’s draw against Leicester, Hughes may choose to protect one or two players for the four matches that will determine their Premier League safety.
Chelsea will view this match differently. Having made the FA Cup final last season only to fall short, the Blues will see this match as an opportunity to end this season with a trophy, regardless of where they fall in the league table. Chelsea were handed a lifeline after Tottenham drew with Brighton in midweek, and the Blues responded by ending Burnley’s five-match winning streak and cutting Spurs’ lead to just five points.
But manager Antonio Conte isn’t one to focus on that. In fact, he was able to rest the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, and Willian against Burnley and found a way to play Alvaro Morata with Giroud in a strike partnership.
It’s unlikely that the 3-4-1-2 that Conte unveiled at Burnley will appear on Sunday afternoon since Hazard and Willian are both likely to be restored to the first 11. But it does present him with a selection headache against Southampton.
Morata’s evening at Turf Moor was an eventful one after his missed one-on-one chance with Nick Pope and the tantrum he threw in the dugout after being substituted. Meanwhile, Giroud has proven to be perfectly capable of leading the line on his own with Willian and Hazard behind. It’s anyone’s guess as to who Conte will pick for Sunday, regardless of what each player’s form suggests.
Another change that Conte will have to make is to replace Marcos Alonso. The Spaniard was banned for an apparent stamp on Shane Long last Sunday and will serve the second of his three-match suspension on Sunday. Thursday evening, Emerson was given his full Premier League debut and played well, but Conte had intimated that Emerson wasn’t quite fit enough to play two matches in four days, so Davide Zappacosta may play at left wing back for Alonso, unless Conte springs a surprise and puts Pedro there.
The match is really going to come down to two factors: how seriously Southampton view this match when their Premier League survival hangs in the balance, and if Chelsea continue show a bit of swagger and confidence that seem to be returning to the team.
In the end, it is a chance to advance to a cup final and win a trophy, so expect Chelsea to be focused on their goal and put Southampton to the sword. But stranger things have happened.