Chelsea vs. Southampton: Key Players in Critical Premier League Clash

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2012

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - DECEMBER 13:  Juan Mata of Chelsea celebrates scoring to make it 1-0 during the FIFA Club World Cup Semi Final match between CF Monterrey and Chelsea at International Stadium Yokohama on December 13, 2012 in Yokohama, Japan.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

With both clubs coming in extremely disappointed in their performances this season, Saturday's fixture between Chelsea and Southampton will be critical for their Premier League standing. That means it will be absolutely necessary for top stars to come out in fine form from the opening pitch. 

The Blues have 29 points in the table, good for third place, but have already fired one manager this season and replacement Rafael Benitez hasn't been a fan favorite.  Even though they have been in relatively fine form of late, it's been a long way down for Chelsea since they won the Champions League earlier this year. 

Meanwhile, Southampton is just trying to avoid relegation. The Saints have only four wins this season and 15 points overall, putting them in a tie with Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa at the edge of demotion. Goal differential is the tiebreaker. So even if Southampton loses, they will look to keep the match close. 

With that in mind, here is a look at a few of the key players in Saturday's fixture. 

Fernando Torres, Chelsea

While he's one of the most criticized players in recent club history, Torres has been one of a select few to find the back of the net this season The 28-year-old forward has six goals in 16 appearances (all starts) and has mostly been there when his team needs him most.

Torres scored two goals against Sunderland last Saturday, getting top honors in the Blues' critical 3-1 victory. That was his second consecutive multi-goal game following another two-goal effort against FC Nordsjaelland in Champions League play on Dec. 5.

All together, Torres has five goals in his past three club appearances and looks to be rounding into fine form. 

Chelsea will undoubtedly look to him again on Saturday to come through with a huge performance. If Torres finds the back of the net at least once, I have a hard time seeing the Blues walk away without three points in the table.

Rickie Lambert, Southampton

Transfer rumors have started to spread about the Southampton star, as The Sun is reporting that West Ham has interest in the 30-year-old striker:

West Ham boss Sam Allardyce wants to sign Rickie Lambert. Big Sam is a long-term fan of the Southampton striker and with interest cooling on Andy Carroll as a £17million end-of-season option, Lambert, 30, has come into the frame.

With a huge matchup on Saturday, it will be up to Lambert to prove to the Saints why he's worthy of keeping around.

It goes without saying that the Southampton forward will have an opportunity. Captain Adam Lallana is out for at least the next three weeks after suffering knee ligament damage in last week's Premier League match against Reading, so Lambert will be one of a select few top-shelf guys on the pitch Saturday.

He has six goals and three assists on the season, but has found the back of the net just once in the past four matches. With the Saints' attack in desperate need of some momentum, it will be necessary that Lambert comes through with a big performance.

Juan Mata, Chelsea

At this point, it's almost a given that Mata will be incredible when given the chance. The 24-year-old forward has six goals this season in 14 appearances (12 starts), but it's his ability to set his teammates up that is most impressive.

Mata has matched his goals with as many assists this season, though his last recorded dime in the Premiership came against Liverpool more than a month ago. With Torres seemingly in the midst of a hot streak scoring-wise, Rafael Benitez will likely look to Mata to set up his fellow forward.

Glory never comes to those who assist. But as Mata continues his ascent among the world's best, it will be his ability to get others involved that is just as important as his goal-scoring ability.