The Inside Track: Chelsea

By SFC Media Mon 24 Apr Chelsea vs Saints
Photo by Reuters | Hazard and Costa

London Evening Standard reporter Simon Johnson gives us the lowdown on Chelsea ahead of Southampton's visit to Stamford Bridge...

What is the mood and form like at Chelsea right now?

I’ve got to start with the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday and how significant that victory (4-2 against Tottenham) was, because there’s no doubt that there’s been a few wobbles of late in the league and the title race. The gap had gone up to 13 points over Tottenham in March, but a couple of defeats, as well as Tottenham’s superb form, has brought it back to four points.

Psychologically, even though Chelsea weren’t brilliant on Saturday, it was one of those games where the result was all that mattered.

Given Chelsea had a few injury issues, and that there’s been a bug in the camp, if they’d lost that then there would be so much pressure and scrutiny on them going into the Southampton game.

As a lot of people have said, it could be a result that has a galvanising effect in the league campaign to help them get over the line.

Do you think it’s a result that will make a big difference to how they come out on Tuesday?

Definitely. You only have to look at if it had gone the other way – the tension in the air, not just among the players, but among the fans as well. It would have been three defeats in five, but there will be a bit more belief around the place.

The message on Saturday afterwards was very much on Southampton. It was very quick to realise the challenge they face, because they are aware Southampton have had more than a week to prepare and that they are a very good side as well. In fact, Cesc Fàbregas actually intimated that the game against Southampton is a bigger game than the one against Tottenham, which kind of gives you an insight into the mindset the players have about this match.

It’s pretty apparent when you look at the table, but can you sum up just how important this game is being seen as at Chelsea?

It’s huge, because if they win they go seven points clear before Tottenham play on the Wednesday night.

Also, the last performance in the league was arguably their worst of the season, against Manchester United. They’ve lost two of their last four league games, so they can’t afford any more setbacks.

They also play at Everton on Sunday, who have been phenomenal at Goodison Park, so they really need to win this game and put all the pressure back on Tottenham, who have seemed to have all the momentum these last few weeks.

But that will be easier said than done, because Southampton have shown, like in the League Cup run, what sort of a side they can be, and also of course they beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season.

What sort of an approach and style of play can we expect to see from Chelsea?

It’s not as free-flowing as it was earlier in the season, when they were beating Everton and Manchester United emphatically. It has got a lot more pragmatic, but that’s kind of understandable, because there’s a lot at stake.

Of course, Southampton fans will be aware of Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation, which is the reason why Chelsea’s season turned around. It was brought in by Conte after the defeat to Arsenal in September.

What will be interesting is the team he picks. One would expect Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, after being named on the bench on Saturday, will start. Hazard is in superb form at the moment. Costa has been off the boil in contrast, and a shadow of the player he was earlier in the season when he scored a cracker at Southampton.

But Antonio Conte kind of joked a few days ago that Costa’s saving the goals for when it matters in the final few weeks, and Chelsea will be hoping he gets back to his best, because he’s on his longest goal drought certainly of the season, but in the league he’s not had as bad a run as this since he joined from Atlético Madrid in 2014.

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