‘Tis the last game of the year 2014!
It’s been a mixed year for a Chelsea fan. We haven’t won any trophies in 2014, but the start of this season has saw us playing the kind of football that has made opposition fans all around the world envious of our quality. We have been superb at all areas of the game so far this season, meaning, our trophy cabinets won’t be barren for too long. Hopefully.
Games surely seem to come thick and fast at this point of the year. Don’t they? We just registered a 2-0 win against a high-flying West Ham yesterday and we are back to action against another high-flying club, Southampton, in the Premier League later on today.
The Saints had a wonderful start to their campaign. Sitting second just behind Chelsea at the start of this month, they looked en route to challenge for the Champions League spot but alas! 5 straight losses (4 in PL) in the month of December has seen them drop to 4th spot just ahead of West Ham. Still, the Ronald Koeman’s side have been a revelation this season, playing the attacking and possession based brand of football under the Dutch manager which has brought them the deserved applause and plaudit from media and fans alike. One thing’s for sure, they certainly won’t be a slouch, when we visit them at St. Mary’s stadium!
Although, by playing an attacking brand of football they might just be playing in our hands by leaving big gaps between their defense and midfield (see Arsenal). Maybe that’s why Ronald Koeman’s side has struggled to salvage many points against top sides. The tactics might not be clear until the game starts, but we sure can look at some key player battles that are going to influence the outcome of this game. Here they are:
MORGAN SCHNEIDERLIN vs CESC FABREGAS
Ah! this battle is going to be mouth watering for fans and neutral alike! Morgan Schneiderlin has been the engine of this Saints team and one of the most important factors for Southampton’s uncanny resurgence after star players like Adam Lallana, Adam Lambert, Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren and Callum Chambers were sold off in summer transfer window. That’s five starters in one transfer window and still they sit pretty at No. 4, largely thanks to this man in the middle of the pitch.
The 5 feet 11 inch, 25-years-old, star midfielder has been in the transfer news long enough to be linked with various top sides around the world including Chelsea. The French midfielder has been leading his side in tackles and interception and on Sunday his job would be to cut off the incisive passes and control the daunting runs of Cesc Fabregas from the midfield.
If I say Cesc Fabregas has been influential for this Chelsea side since joining in the summer, it would quite be an understatement. Apart from his assists which he seems to rack up in every game, the Spaniards defense splitting passes, and intelligent runs have been a sight to behold. None, apart from Man City till now have been able to control the midfield maestro and it would be interesting to see how Morgan Schneiderlin, who has been brilliant all season, cope against him. Quite a battle to watch out for!
GRAZIANO PELLE vs JOHN TERRY
If one certain Italian Striker at Anfield has been a story of failure and mockery, the another Italian at St. Mary has been quite the opposite. Graziano Pelle has been an instant hit at Southampton since he has joined the club in the summer transfer window. With 11 goals (8 in the League) and 2 assists so far in all competitions, the 29-year-old Italian has been on fire for the Ronald Koeman’s side.
If Morgan Scheiderlin has been the rock in the middle of the pitch, Pelle has been doing it consistently upfront. Come this afternoon though, the Italian will probably face the toughest test since joining the Southampton side when he lines up against the best in England, John Terry.
At 34 years of age, John Terry has been a rock for the Blues so far this season, performing consistently, week in week out, which has prompted Mourinho to talk about the defender recently. According to the manager:
“He’s full of confidence. I see my John of 2004, 05, 06. I don’t see any difference.”
Which is quite right, considering how we have been keeping so many clean sheets as of late and of course we do have the best defensive record in the league which says so much about the level John Terry has been maintaining. It would be interesting to see how Pelle adapts and finds spaces, going against someone like Terry which makes this an interesting battle to watch out for.
DIEGO COSTA vs JOSE FONTE
The 31-year-old captain of this Saints side has been a pillar in defense for the Ronald Koeman’s side. The Portuguese missed the last game against Crystal Palace due to suspension which means the lanky, 6 feet 2 inch defender will be fresh when he starts against Costa and co..
Losing their star Dejan Lovren to Liverpool in the summer was a very serious blow to Southampton and some even expected them to battle it out for relegation. But, with second best defensive record in the league (second only to Chelsea), the Saints have showed their determination and skills at the back and Jose Fonte has been one of the major reason for their miraculous turnaround.
The Portuguese star has been brilliant in the air, but he would have a very tough task coming up against a fiery Diego Costa. Diego Costa seems to be back in full flow as we saw against Stoke and West Ham. The Spaniard was a constant menace against both the sides and even got his deserved goal yesterday, rounding off no less than 3 defenders in the process. Jose Fonte, for all his skills and talents, would find it very difficult, almost impossible to stop Diego Costa if the Striker can keep up his good rhythm which makes this battle fun for us, but almost unfair for the opposition fans to watch out for!
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Edited By: Ankur Bhatt