Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe takes a look at how Southampton may look to approach the midweek trip to Stamford Bridge...
The relentless festive fixture calendar shows no sign of letting up, and fresh off the back of hosting Manchester City on Sunday, Southampton are already embroiled in preparations for a trip to Chelsea on Wednesday.
The Blues enjoyed a more successful Christmas period than most; one of only three sides to win both of their games (the others being Liverpool and Manchester United), they showcased the art of grinding out results when the going got tough on the legs.
They’ll provide an extremely stern test for the Saints, but still remain eminently beatable with the correct game plan in place.
Suffocate Eden Hazard
Chelsea’s best player this season has been Eden Hazard. With ten goals and nine assists from 19 appearances to his name, he’s averaging more than one significant contribution per game in the Premier League.
It almost goes without saying that stopping him goes a long way toward stopping Chelsea, but that statement rings particularly true for this contest.
With Olivier Giroud – often the scourge of Southampton – injured and Alvaro Morata struggling for confidence, Hazard is one of few obvious goalscoring threats the Blues currently offer.
He’s split time between the left wing and the centre-forward position of late, though retains a freedom to roam whichever role he’s given.
With Pedro injured it’s probable he operates off the left against Southampton, making him the chief responsibility of whoever Ralph Hasenhüttl fields on the right.
He’ll require help from his inside centre-back and the nearest defensive midfielder, as all three will need to box him in and ward him away from central areas.
It’s also imperative they don’t get caught in transition with Hazard free between the lines – he burned Watford that way recently and will do so again if given the chance.
Watch the midfield runs
Jorginho’s record-breaking touch and pass numbers draw a lot of attention, but the most genuinely threatening part of Chelsea’s midfield is their forward runs off the ball.
At times Jorginho will be the one to pick those out, at others it will be David Luiz (as he did with aplomb against Crystal Palace).
This rehearsed move will be Chelsea’s second-best route to a goal behind a moment of stupefying Hazard brilliance.
Southampton’s centre-backs will have to be very aware of N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić’s darting runs, either from deep or from out to in.
Kanté made one that split Patrick van Aanholt and Mamadou Sakho on Sunday and resulted in the winning goal.
Some teams have decided to put a man on Jorginho to nullify him, others have left him be as they don’t necessarily fear his passing will be too penetrative.
Whichever strategy Hasenhüttl chooses, he has to put plans in place to deal with the other two.
Cross with quality
Southampton’s 3-2 win over Arsenal earlier this month highlighted the crossing quality present at the club.
Matt Targett, Nathan Redmond and Shane Long all measured in superb deliveries that were duly buried by the grateful Danny Ings and Charlie Austin.
Since that day we haven’t necessarily seen that quality shine through – at times because of different game plans, at others due to a lack of opportunity – but the trip to Stamford Bridge would represent a timely moment for it to return.
Chelsea aren’t necessarily weak from crosses, but the timidity of Kepa Arrizabalaga when it comes to aerial work offers opportunity to a team willing to put balls into the box.
Saints’ strikers stand a good chance of winning their fair share without the goalkeeper rushing out to claim, plus loose balls present chances for conversion.
If Ings and Austin can finish in the same way they did against Arsenal, there’s joy to be had from traditional wing play.