Chelsea begin 2014 with a trip to take on Southampton after ending the previous year with a valuable 2-1 victory over Liverpool that included, according to captain John Terry, the best 45 minutes of action they’ve produced this season. Having come back to claim victory from a goal down, Chelsea ensured they reached the halfway point of the Premier League campaign just two points off the top of the table. And Terry suggested that the team is now finding its top gear after what was an unconvincing start to Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge.
“I think the first half [against Liverpool] was the best we've played all season actually; the pressing was spot on, as were the tactics from the manager,” he said, according to Chelsea’s official website.
“The tempo was excellent and it's good to do that in front of our home fans as well. Hopefully we can continue that as it's been coming. We've been playing okay but feeling like we've got a little bit more to give and I thought we did that in this game.”
After a 3-2 defeat to Stoke City, Mourinho has focused on returning to his tried and tested defensive-first formula. That has seen them since win three of their next four matches in the Premier League, all by a single-goal margin. With a tighter defense, Eden Hazard has been vital to producing the flair at the other end of late and scored in victories over Swansea City and Liverpool in the past week.
In the midst of the heavy festive schedule, Mourinho will be forced into rotating his side. Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic are ruled out with injuries suffered on Sunday, while David Luiz is suspended. Luiz, who operated in midfield against Liverpool, is likely to be replaced by fellow-Brazilian Ramires, who returns from his own suspension.
Injuries have contributed to a tough end to what was otherwise a 2013 characterized by upward trajectory for Southampton under Mauricio Pochettino. Sitting third in the Premier League in November, Southampton finished the first half of the season in ninth place after a run of just five points from eight matches. But the Argentine coach believes there is still much reason to be proud of their achievements and optimistic for the future.
“I think it’s a season that we’ve started off really well,” he said, according to Southampton’s official website. “We’ve gotten some really good results. We’ve been able to establish our style, our attacking philosophy and style of football. We’re achieving in the fact that we’re putting together a solid team.
“The last two months we’ve been plagued with a lot of injuries and illnesses and that has hindered our process a little bit, but we accept it. We accept it as part of the competition. The most important thing is that we’ve been able to maintain our philosophy, our attacking style of football – one in which the players are vital.”
For the visit of Chelsea, Southampton will welcome back Morgan Schneiderlin after the key midfielder served a one-match suspension in the 2-1 defeat at Everton. Striker Dani Osvaldo may return from illness.
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.