All eyes on Mou’s team selection for stern Saints test

Posted by Mark Worrall

Angel Martinez/Real Madrid/Getty ImagesMauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho coached against each other in La Liga, Pochettino with Espanyol and Mourinho with Real Madrid.

After a week of contrasting fortunes on the road, which saw Chelsea overpower a frail West Ham United side at the Boleyn Ground last Saturday and slip to a timid defeat against FC Basel at St. Jakob Park on Tuesday, the Blues return to Stamford Bridge on Sunday for an intriguing Premier League fixture with the top flight’s surprise package this season, Southampton.

For the Champions League tie in Switzerland, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho elected to start 10 of the players who featured against West Ham. Curiously, the Blues looked jaded against Basel. Lack of stamina has never been something that critics have been able to level at the players of the London club, certainly in the Abramovich-era, but at the final whistle Mourinho was swift to blame fatigue for his side's poor showing.

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With the exception of 35-year-old Frank Lampard, who had run his legs off at Upton Park and surely should have been rested on Tuesday night, "tiredness" was a lame excuse on the part of the Blues' boss, who inexplicably failed to make the most of the deep talent pool at his disposal, in particular omitting once more the frustratingly neglected Juan Mata.

For Southampton's visit, Mourinho knows that anything less than a fully committed, wide-awake performance against Mauricio Pochettino’s live-wire team could result in his astonishing home Premier League record streak -- which now reads played 66, won 51, drawn 15, lost none -- finally being ended.

Last time out at the Bridge, West Brom came perilously close to doing just that. Steve Clarke’s men had taken hold of the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half and were denied victory at the death by a harsh penalty decision that saw match referee Andre Marriner’s name added to the Christmas card list of many a Chelsea supporter.

Despite the near-hiatus against the Baggies, the Blues' home form in the Premier League this season remains formidable. Played 6, won 5, drawn 1, lost none, goals for 15, against 5 are a set of statistics that tell their own story.

Chelsea have created 84 chances at the Bridge, the second-highest home tally in the PL this term, and averaged 57 percent possession with an 87 percent pass accuracy. In short, whatever starting XI Mourinho settles on, Southampton can expect a serious game of football.

Fernando Torres will return to Premier League action for the Blues on Sunday, having featured as a substitute against Basel in midweek. Torres replaced Samuel Eto’o late on in the first half when the Cameroon international was forced off with a groin injury. Against the Saints the Spaniard will be hoping that the positive streak of form he was enjoying before his recent layoff has not deserted him.

In defence, Cesar Azpilicueta, who has enjoyed a run of games being played out of position at left back -- but was given a torrid time by Basel winger Mohamed Salah on Tuesday -- may lose his place in the side to a fit-again Ashley Cole. Mourinho may however elect to play the Spaniard on the right side of defence, where he would replace Branislav Ivanovic, who was at fault for Salah’s winner when the Egyptian switched flanks and showed the sleeping Serb a clean pair of heels before rifling the ball past Petr Cech.

Should Mourinho go with the 4-3-3 setup that served him well against West Ham, it will be interesting to see who will feature either side of Torres and in the midfield three behind him. Following Tuesday night’s exertions, only Eden Hazard, rested initially to the bench for the Basel match, looks a certain starter on the left flank. Meanwhile, John Obi Mikel, Ramires, Oscar, Willian, Kevin De Bruyne, Andre Schurrle and Lampard must wait and see what is in the Chelsea manager’s mind.

Blues supporters and the wider world of football will be looking for one name and one name only on Mourinho’s team sheet -- Juan Mata. Given the recent on-pitch travails and the fact Mata is fit, ready and hungry to play, any further omission will underline the wildly held belief that the popular Spanish playmaker’s days at Stamford Bridge are numbered.

Sunday’s visit to the Bridge will hold no fear for Southampton, who have lost just twice in the league this season, beating Liverpool at Anfield and drawing at Old Trafford against Manchester United along the way. Pochettino has the Saints playing a vibrant high-tempo style of football and in England international newcomers Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert has a couple of players who are capable on their day of unpicking any defence.

When managing La Liga outfit Espanyol, Pochettino faced Mourinho, then boss of Real Madrid, four times losing on each occasion without his side scoring a goal. The Argentine holds the Portuguese in high regard previously referring to Mourinho as "the best of the best" and having consulted with him before taking over at St. Mary’s.

Putting their friendship to one side for the day, Pochettino will know that masterminding a Southampton victory over Chelsea, and Mourinho in particular, will cement his credentials as a first-class manager, and the Blues' boss will be fully aware of this. With a packed house expected at Stamford Bridge, and a worldwide television audience of millions, there will be no hiding place for Mourinho on Sunday, should his team fail to deliver or worst still compete.

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