Who: Chelsea FC vs. Southampton FC
What: English Premier League Matchweek 31
Where: St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton, England UK
When: Saturday, March 30, 2013
Weather: The Weather Channel forecast
Time: 15:00 GMT/11:00 a.m. ET/8:00 a.m. PT
Television: Fox Soccer Plus, FOX Soccer 2Go (USA)
Worldwide Live Streams and TV Channels: LiveSoccerTV.com
Radio: TalkSport Radio
Referee: Martin Atkinson
3-Way Odds: Southampton +290, Chelsea -110, Draw +260
Total: Over 2½ -140, Under 2½ +110
Decimal Odds: Southampton 3.90, Chelsea 1.91, Draw 3.60
Decimal Total: Over 2½ 1.71, Under 2½ 2.10
Fractional Odds: Southampton 29/10, Chelsea 10/11, Draw 11/10
Fractional Total: Over 2½ 5/2, Under 2½ 11/10
Alternate Point Spreads:
Chelsea Pick -210, Southampton +160
Chelsea -1 +190, Southampton +1 -260
Over 1½ -400, Under 1½ +275
Over 3 +125, Under 3 -165
Source: Bovada (Kahnawake, Canada)
While the international break sounded like a good chance for a rest for Chelsea—at least on paper—in reality, several Blues players participated for their native countries in 2014 World Cup qualifiers while speculation Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho is coming to Stamford Bridge this summer hit a fever pitch.
So with no rest for the wicked, Chelsea (16-7-6) gets back to work at 16th-place Southampton (7-10-13) with some fear in its heart about holding on to its current position in the English Premier League table and some revenge in its mind after blowing a 2-0 halftime lead against the Saints at Stamford Bridge on Jan. 16 and settling for a 2-2 draw.
Southampton has a 5-5-5 record at home at St. Mary's Stadium (22 goals for, 18 goals against) heading into this match and you know the Saints faithful would love nothing better than to beat the European champions on Saturday not only to get farther from the relegation zone—they're currently four points away from it—but also for some seasonal bragging rights.
Rickie Lambert (13 goals in Premier League), Jason Puncheon (5), Morgan Schneiderlin (5), Jay Rodriguez (4) and Gaston Ramírez (4) are Southampton's leading scorers and with Artur Boruc in goal, this club is a tough matchup at home for anyone—just ask Liverpool or Manchester City who both lost 3-1 to the Saints at St. Mary's recently.
For Chelsea to not have the same fate on Saturday as the Reds and the Sky Blues did, ball possession and scoring first to take the crowd out of it a bit will be paramount as Southampton's last memories of the Blues were all good with its somewhat unexpected late comeback for the draw in West London.
With Mourinho's return to Stamford Bridge apparently contingent on a top four finish and Champions League qualification according to a recent story in the Daily Mail, Chelsea may actually need this match more than Southampton in the long run if getting The Special One back in the fold is truly that important to the club's future success as many think.
But what's but nice to know if you're a Blues fan is that they still have a game in hand over the Spurs who have played 30 heading into the weekend because of Chelsea's rescheduled match against Fulham at Craven Cottage on April 17 due to a scheduling conflict because of the Blues participation in the FA Cup.
Chelsea did do a number against Southampton when the two clubs met in the third round of the FA Cup on Jan. 5 when it blasted the Saints 5-1 as Demba Ba scored twice in his Chelsea debut.
Now whether or not interim manager Rafael Benitez decides to put Ba up top in his team's 4-2-3-1 formation or stick with his usual starter at striker in Fernando Torres is another thing but both players should be well rested and ready no matter what the Spaniard decides.
In the advanced midfield, the so-called "Mazacar" line of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar may be employed, while John Obi Mikel should be in one of the central midfield spots with either Frank Lampard, Ramires or maybe even David Luiz alongside him.
With John Terry slowly returning to 100 percent, Benitez may have the captain starting in his back four with Ashley Cole, César Azpilicueta and either Gary Cahill or Branislav Ivanović at the other center-back position in front of goalkeeper Petr Čech.
But who Benitez names to his starting XI is always a mystery of sorts and with a brutal schedule on the horizon that sees Chelsea playing six games in a span of 16 days, how the interim manager chose to use his deep and healthy roster over that time will go a long way to determining the Blues fate in the Premier League, Europa League and FA Cup.
Chelsea is 4-1-1 over its last six games (10-4 goals) in all competitions and has played two games in each of the above leagues or tournaments in those six.
One guy whose name gets tossed around so much in the comments section here that you would think he's already a member of Chelsea is Southampton's 17-year-old defender Luke Shaw who many see as a great candidate as a replacement for Ashley Cole at left-back when the 32-year-old legend decides to retire or take his services elsewhere.
The Blues are 6-3-1 with an 18-9 scoring difference in their last 10 meetings with the Saints in top flight play and have won four of the last five against them but anyone thinking this will be a walk in the park for Chelsea has another thing coming.
But with the possibility of getting Mourinho back and fears of not qualifying for the Champions League at stake, the Blues should have enough in the way of defense, scoring and healthy bodies to find a way to secure all three points with Mata and Torres each scoring a goal and Čech being his usual, brilliant self and notching a clean sheet.
Chelsea will have minimal time to rest with league-leaders Manchester United coming to West London for their FA Cup quarter-finals replay—the two tied 2-2 at Old Trafford on March 10—on Monday (Fox Soccer Channel, 7:25 a.m. ET/4:25 a.m. PT) in what will surely be one of the most entertaining games of the year (Odds, Preview and Prediction' here on Saturday).
But first things first, and that means taking care of business at Southampton, as the first seven teams in the Premier League all have very winnable games this weekend and the Blues can't afford silly slip-ups as they have occasionally done this season.
Now who would you put out as your starting 11 knowing this match is important, but knowing the Red Devils game is just two days later? And why?
However much Chelsea fans missed watching their boys these last two weeks, they will get more than their fill of their team this week with the first leg of the Europa League quarter-finals match against Rubin Kazan on Thursday and a date with Sunderland on Sunday also on tap.
Despite the possible oncoming football overdose, Chelsea fans will be happy to know that the United, Rubin Kazan and Sunderland matches are all at Stamford Bridge.
Better stock up on the beverages now, brother. It's about to get good.
PREDICTION: Chelsea 2 Southampton 0
BETS: Chelsea -120 (Three-way), Chelsea Pick -160
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Writer’s note: As always, these odds and predictions are for simply for public consumption and not an endorsement of sports gambling in general, any of the sources used or the specific picks. If you do choose to gamble using this information, always employ your own opinion as the top priority and keep your amounts conservative. And remember the best and most stress-free way to watch a game is without a wager on it. Also, no one at Bleacher Report asked me to add this disclaimer here. I approached them to do it myself, was given the go-ahead and this is probably the only time I will add this to one of my stories.