Chelsea manager José Mourinho has backed his players to bounce back from Wednesday’s Champions League exit at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain and go onto lift the Premier League title. Mourinho’s men looked to have a place in the last eight of Europe’s premier competition in their grasp when twice going a goal up against the 10-man French champions at Stamford Bridge, but went out on away goals following Thiago Silva’s goal in extra time.
It was a bitter disappointment for Mourinho, who is still chasing an unprecedented third European Cup with three different clubs as well as a first Champions League with Chelsea. Yet, ahead of the visit of Southampton on Sunday, he is adamant that his squad has what it takes to overcome the blow and still make it a season to savor at Stamford Bridge.
“The people who were knocked out of the Champions League on Wednesday are the same people that is top of the Premier League since day one, it’s the same people who won the Capital One Cup and the same people who are going to win the Premier League,” he said.
“We want to win against Southampton, we have 11 matches to play, we have an advantage of five points, we have one match in hand. We cannot promise that we’ll win every game, we cannot even promise that we’ll win the Premier League, but we are optimists.”
Chelsea have a comfortable edge over Manchester City, although they will need no reminder that the champions have already overhauled a similar deficit this campaign. And after an imperious start to the season, Chelsea have undeniably been less impressive of late, drawing four of their last eight matches in all competitions, including at home to Burnley last month.
On Sunday, they will be taking on opponents who have also taken a point off them this season and who themselves have much to play for. Southampton remain firmly in the race for a Champions League place, just four points back of fourth-placed Manchester United. For a long time they were riding high in the top four, confounding all expectations after losing a host of top players and their manager last summer. But a run of one point from five matches, has left them playing catch up, despite getting back on track with a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace 10 days ago.
In the time since, manager Ronald Koeman gave his squad a break in Switzerland in hopes of refreshing them for the run in to the end of the season. But the Dutchman, who worked alongside Mourinho as part of Louis van Gaal’s coaching staff at Barcelona, does not believe it’s an ideal time to be taking on Chelsea.
“I don't know when it's a good time,” he said. "It's always a difficult time. It's a big team, a strong team with some great players and of course they are very disappointed after last Wednesday’s result. If you play 60 minutes against 10 players, you don't expect that final result and maybe they are a little bit more under pressure.
“After the League Cup title, for them it’s not the most important one, they fight for the Premier title. They need a win after a disappointing result but they will give a reaction you normally expect as a manager.”
Prediction: The exit at the hands of PSG was not merely an isolated result for Chelsea. The drop in intensity has been creeping in for several weeks, while throughout the season the side has lacked the same ability to close out games that has long been the hallmark of Mourinho’s teams. Through it all, Chelsea remain the best team in the Premier League and should go on to fulfill Mourinho’s title prediction.
Southampton’s drop off in performances is likely to cost them a place in the Champions League. Lacking the necessary depth, and having seen goals, in particular from Graziano Pellè, dry up of late, Southampton look set to fall short both during the last stretch of the season and at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea 2-0 Southampton
Kickoff time: 9:30 a.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra