The Big Match Tactical View: Southampton v Chelsea

Is Mark Hughes taking Southampton down?
Is Mark Hughes taking Southampton down?
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Southampton desperately need a victory, while Chelsea are now seemingly battling with Arsenal for fifth place. Michael Cox and Alan Thompson have opposing views on the outcome...

"Southampton’s main problem this season has been goalscoring"

Southampton v Chelsea
Saturday 12:30,
Live on Sky Sports Football

Match Odds: Southampton [4.6], Chelsea [1.9], The Draw [3.8].

Southampton desperately need points

Two games into his Southampton managerial stint, and Mark Hughes is still yet to collect a point. Time is running out, and Southampton's run-in appears tricky.

Hughes will be encouraged by the Saints' performance in last weekend's 3-2 defeat to Arsenal, however. Shane Long made some good runs upfront and ended his long goal drought, while Charlie Austin came off the bench to grab the second. Southampton's main problem this season has been goalscoring, but both Long and Austin have previously shown their ability to find the target.

Hughes will, however, be without centre-back Jack Stephens following his dismissal for tangling with Jack Wilshere last weekend. This could force Hughes into a formation change, ditching last weekend's three-man defence because of absence of three top-quality centre-backs. 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 could be the order of the day here - it would be the third system in three games, after Hughes started his reign with 4-4-2 at West Ham, in a 3-0 defeat.

Long or Austin?

That would mean Wesley Hoedt and Maya Yoshida together in the centre of defence, supported by Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares out wide. The latter pushed forward well last weekend, setting up Austin's goal, but was found wanting for Danny Welbeck's headed winner and must tuck inside and support his centre-backs more effectively here.

Hughes recalled Oriol Romeu last weekend and he's likely to continue alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. Hughes may even bring in Mario Lemina as a third central midfielder, although a 4-2-3-1 with three attacking midfielders makes more sense. Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond might be joined by James Ward-Prowse, a curious player still yet to establish his best position, but an undoubted threat from set-pieces.

Upfront is perhaps Hughes' main decision. Long's movement was excellent against Arsenal, and after he broke his long duck he continued to get into good positions, having another 'goal' ruled out for offside. Austin, though, is a better penalty box threat and might be chucked into the first team here. Chelsea haven't defended crosses well in recent months, particularly from the right flank. Ward-Prowse hanging the ball up to Austin, challenging up against Cesar Azpilicueta, could be a route to goal.

Conte likely to keep a settled XI

Chelsea started well in last weekend's 1-1 draw at home to West Ham, and only a lack of ruthlessness in the final third prevented them from wrapping the game up before Javier Hernandez's equaliser. Alvaro Morata looks lively again, although should have timed his runs better - he had two goals disallowed for offside when he could have easily stayed in an onside position.

Expect few changes to Antonio Conte's starting XI, although Andreas Christensen is likely to return in place of Gary Cahill at the heart of the defence. Antonio Rudiger and Azpilicueta will play either side, with Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses out wide.

In midfield, N'Golo Kante provides the energy just behind the increasingly immobile Cesc Fabregas, who is nevertheless still capable of spraying passes into the channels for Morata to run onto. Eden Hazard was heavily involved last weekend from a particularly central position, while Willian will shuttle forward from the right flank behind Morata.

Chelsea will presumably play with their default approach against a four-man defence, with Hazard and Willian dragging the Saints full-backs inside, allowing Alonso and Moses to overlap energetically. Alonso, in particular, is always a huge goal threat.

That might tempt Hughes into using a three-man defence again, matching Chelsea's system. But it's difficult to work out who would play as the third centre-back - no-one else in Southampton's squad has played there all season, aside from Virgil van Dijk, who has long since departed for Liverpool. Perhaps Bertrand could slot into a back three against his old club, but Hughes is still scrambling around trying to find a suitable system for this Southampton side, and I don't have faith in them here. I'll back a Chelsea win at [1.9]

The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson

Another defeat last time out left Mark Hughes' side in a perilous position, sitting in the relegation zone three points adrift of fourth bottom Crystal Palace, although they do have a game in hand.

Saints have now failed to win their last six Premier League games and, with just three home games left, they’ve got to be looking for a win here. Realistically, I am sure they would normally be very pleased with a draw against Chelsea but they might fancy this as their visitors aren’t having the best of times at present

I had Chelsea around [2.1] on my tissue and was slightly surprised to see them trading odds on. It is looking more and more likely that Antonio Conte will be plying his trade elsewhere next season so his motivation to get the best out of his players could be lacking and, with little to play for, other than consolidating fifth, I am more of a layer than a backer at odds on.

The goals market is interesting in that only Swansea City (45) out of the bottom six clubs have conceded fewer goals than Southampton (50). But the Saints have conceded exactly three goals in their last three games so although under 2.5 goals is trading at about [1.92], and I made it [1.83], I am happy to leave it.

Chelsea have won just one of their last five and lost their last three on the road; I will be laying them at [1.9].

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