Chelsea are on the road for their first game of 2014 against Southampton at St Mary’s. The Blues will want to start the year in the same manner that they finished 2013, with an emphatic performance and three points.
Jose Mourinho was full of praise for his players following the inspired comeback against Liverpool, although he made it clear that the congested fixture schedule was taking its toll on his squad. The Special One told chelseafc.com:
It was a big win, big opponent, big match and big respect to every player in this country because I love it, you love it, people around the world love it and the accumulation of matches is amazing. That's why what happened to (Branislav) Ivanovic, (Frank) Lampard, (Joe) Allen and (Mamadou) Sakho happened, because it's really difficult, especially when it's a big match and the players have to give what they have and what they don't have.
There will be plenty of changes to the XI that started against Liverpool. Ivanovic suffered a ligament injury in the first half, and Lampard was withdrawn at half time with a muscular strain. David Luiz picked up his fifth yellow card of the season just before the December 31 amnesty kicked in and has been given permission to go to Portugal to celebrate the New Year with his friends.
For those that haven't seen it, check out Jose Mourinho gatecrashing David Luiz's post-match interview yesterday. http://t.co/wUZ8zP59UA— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) December 30, 2013
With those players unavailable, the back four picks itself. Cesar Azpilicueta will revert to his natural position at right-back while Ashley Cole will start at left-back. John Terry and Gary Cahill will continue their excellent partnership at centre-half.
John Obi Mikel was suffering from the flu against Liverpool but should be fully recovered for the trip to Southampton. Ramires will return to partner him in the pivot having served a one-match suspension.
Mourinho told chelseafc.com that he had wanted to introduce Andre Schurrle in the second half against Liverpool but was forced to make substitutions through injury. This suggests that Schurrle will start at Southampton, with Oscar retaining his No. 10 role.
Eden Hazard’s beautiful equaliser against Liverpool took his tally to 10 goals for the season, making him Chelsea’s top scorer in the process. After the game, he told chelseafc.com about the mentality of the squad at the moment.
It was a very big win for the fans. Everybody knows this period is important in this country and playing at home as well, it is very important to win and to fight and take three points. It was a very good game, very difficult against a big team with big players, and we did it very well. We found the good passes and we worked well together. We try to be together no matter who plays up front, whether it be Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o or Demba Ba.
Eto’o was preferred ahead of Torres against Liverpool, and the Cameroonian veteran’s goal was only the fifth Premier League goal scored by a Chelsea striker this season. Eto’o’s ability to appear in the right place at the right time was exactly what was needed against Liverpool, but it is likely that Torres will start at Southampton.
Chelsea go into this game in third place in the closest Premier League title race for over a decade. If they can keep Jay Rodriguez and Gaston Ramirez quiet while showing the same intensity they did against Liverpool, the Blues will certainly stay within touching distance of the title.