Chelsea will welcome Southampton to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night knowing that a victory will take them three points closer to the Premier League title as they cut the number of remaining fixtures from six to five.
When the two sides met in late October it was a comfortable win for Chelsea, though the Blues have failed to beat the Saints in either of their last two visits to west London after a defeat and a draw in their last two encounters.
Chelsea reacted to defeat at Old Trafford against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United in the perfect fashion as they saw off the challenge of Tottenham at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final at the weekend, with Eden Hazard’s cameo changing the game in their favour. However, Antonio Conte’s side have not kept a clean sheet in their last six games, since they played United in March, and have not kept one in the Premier League since January.
Claude Puel’s side have a far better defensive record having kept six clean sheets in all competitions since then, with four coming in the Premier League, but the south coast club have struggled against the big boys. Defeats to Tottenham and Manchester City in recent weeks have dented hopes of a late surge up the table despite impressive wins over Crystal Palace and West Brom.
Chelsea predicted starting XI Southampton predicted starting XI
Eden Hazard and Diego Costa should both returning to the starting eleven having been rested, but Nathan Ake is likely to retain his place with Willian also having done enough to be preferred to Pedro in attack alongside the rested duo.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is likely to be the man to miss out as Oriol Romeu returns having served his suspension for ten yellow cards in the only change for Claude Puel’s team.
Gary Cahill has recovered from his mystery illness in time to return to training with a hope of playing against the Saints but it is unlikely that he will be available from the start after spending several days in hospital. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are expected to return to the starting line-ups after being rested at the weekend.
For Southampton, former Chelsea man Oriol Romeu will return having served a two game suspension. Left-back Sam McQueen could miss out though with a groin problem. The game may come just too soon for Matt Targett and Charlie Austin despite the duo resuming training after months on the sidelines, and Virgil Van Dijk and Alex McCarthy remain long term injury problems.
Match Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Southampton
Southampton have proved that they can be resilient, but Chelsea should just be too much for them. The seven day advantage in terms of rest before the game for the Saints could have given them the edge, but with Eden Hazard and Diego Costa set to return having been rested, they will have no mercy as they look to secure the Premier League title.