Chelsea have faced the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain since Guus Hiddink took over the club in December. It's travelling to the south coast to play Southampton this weekend that could prove to be their biggest test, though.
Ronald Koeman's side haven't conceded a goal in more than nine hours of football, and they're in a rich vein of form that has seen them win five of their last six Premier League matches. It's a formidable record, and it's helped them to surge up the table to become serious contenders for European qualification.
Hiddink agrees, describing the game as "a big test for Chelsea to see where we are in the Premier League."
Chelsea have scored 10 goals in their last two domestic outings, defeating Newcastle United and Manchester City 5-1. The latter came against a much-changed City side in the FA Cup, with Manuel Pellegrini resting plenty of first-team players ahead of their midweek UEFA Champions League clash with Dynamo Kiev.
The Newcastle win was impressive, though. Chelsea picked off the Magpies in ruthless fashion, and they will need to be just as sharp—if not more so—if they are to avenge the 3-1 defeat against Southampton at Stamford Bridge from earlier this season.
"After a little setback [Southampton] have regained their confidence in recent games," Hiddink said in his press conference on Friday.
"They can maintain their clean sheet, but also they can play and surprise their opponent. They have a mix of young players but also players who know the game. That makes them very dangerous.
"It will be a very difficult game getting them out of their clean-sheet comfort zone. It’s up to us to try to annoy them."
If Chelsea can annoy the Saints and take all three points, they could break into the top 10 for the first time this season. Alternatively, if results go their way, there's a possibility Southampton will end the weekend just four points off the top four.
Date: Saturday, February 27
Time: 3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET
Venue: St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton, England
TV Info: Match of the Day, BBC1 (10.30pm, UK only)/NBC Sports (U.S. only)
Live Stream: No UK live stream/NBCSN (U.S. only)
Last 5 Games
|Jan. 16||Southampton 3-0 West Bromwich Albion|
|Jan. 23||Manchester United 0-1 Southampton|
|Feb. 2||Arsenal 0-0 Southampton|
|Feb. 6||Southampton 1-0 West Ham United|
|Feb. 13||Swansea City 0-1 Southampton|
|Feb. 3||Watford 0-0 Chelsea|
|Feb. 7||Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United|
|Feb. 13||Chelsea 5-1 Newcastle United|
|Feb. 16||Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Chelsea|
|Feb. 21||Chelsea 5-1 Manchester City|
Southampton boast close to a fully fit squad ahead of Chelsea's visit to St Mary's on Saturday, with just Jay Rodriguez and Florin Gardos out injured. It means Ronald Koeman's options are plenty.
It's not quite the same for Chelsea, who will be missing John Terry for the third game running as he continues his fightback from the hamstring injury he picked up against Newcastle United.
"He will not be fit," Hiddink said of Terry on Friday. "He is still in treatment, every now and then he goes in the gym. He is doing exercises there and on the pitch, but he is not fit."
Radamel Falcao remains injured and Kurt Zouma's season is over due to a knee injury. Alexandre Pato is still working on his match fitness so isn't expected to feature.
Southampton (5-3-2): Forster; Soares, Van Dijk, Fonte, Yoshida, Bertrand; Davis, Romeu, Clasie; Long, Mane
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Rahman; Mikel, Fabregas; Hazard, Willian, Pedro; Diego Costa
The Englishman has been back from injury since early January, featuring six times since then. In each of those appearances, Forster has kept a clean sheet.
It's a phenomenal record, especially when you consider Forster had been sidelined for the best part of a year.
His return has coincided with Southampton's rise up the table. They now sit in sixth place, on the fringes of the UEFA Europa League spots. It's no coincidence that the Saints' form has spiked with Forster's return, as he is proving himself an exceptional goalkeeper.
He's already shut out Manchester United, Arsenal and West Ham United since his return to action. Now for Chelsea.
Without Diego Costa's goals in recent weeks, Chelsea would be seriously lagging. As it is, they still haven't managed to creep back into the top 10, but Costa's form has helped stabilise the team under Hiddink.
The Spain international looks sharp again. There is a spring in his step, and he has punished defenders as a result.
Southampton's defence has been impressive in that same period, so with Costa facing the form team in the Premier League, he really is going to have his work cut out.
Few sides have breached the Saints' back line since the turn of the year, and the impression is that Costa will have to put in one of his best performances of the season if Chelsea are going to change that.
Costa vs. Forster is going to be the battle of the weekend.
Southampton 2-1 Chelsea
Home Win: +170
Away Win: +180
First Goalscorer: Shane Long (7/1)
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