Among the deluge of rumours surrounding Chelsea's head coach, not to mention several key players, as early of a start to Silly Season as we can recall, there is actually a game of football to be played as Chelsea visit Southampton at St. Mary's in Saturday’s early kick-off.
Neither team are in particularly good form, though it’s probably more of a must-win for the home side, who are struggling to avoid relegation. For Chelsea, a win would be a bit of a reprieve from the truly awful run of form, which, began not long after the narrow 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in the reverse fixture back in mid-December. A trademark Marcos Alonso free kick gave all three points to Conte’s men, who have picked up just 19 points from 42 available — 5 wins and 5 losses in the 14 league games since, and just 1 win in the last 5 (and that’s before we include similarly poor results achieved in the three knockout competitions in the meantime).
Marcos Alonso stunning free-kick | Chelsea vs Southampton 16/12/2017 #CHESOU @marcosalonso03 @ChelseaFC @CFC_ChelseaFC @Chelsea_FL @CFCnews @CFCInAmerica @NL_Chelsea_FC @ChelseaNewsHQ @ConteBlueArmy @Chelsea_Berita @PittsburghBlues pic.twitter.com/d48NUkAr4J— Fan Footage Goals (@FanFootageGoals) December 17, 2017
As a result, Chelsea presumably need the perfect formation and line-up in order to take all three points back home. Conte had 'no news' regarding any new injuries, so we can assume all players are available with the exception of long-term absentees David Luiz and Ethan Ampadu. In addition, Conte implied that he intends to rotate in the upcoming games, which should mean that fringe players such as Emerson, Zappacosta, and Bakayoko will be seeing some action (maybe even the unwanted Danny Drinkwater?).
Emerson, especially, should be given his Premier League debut sooner rather than later. He's had to be quite patient up until now and Alonso getting some rest has always resulted in better performances going forward, which may prove crucial ahead of the Burnley and FA Cup semifinal games next week. Davide Zappacosta should be back after a brief injury lay-off, and could get a shot in the starting eleven as well, while Andreas Christensen shouldn’t be stuck to the bench for too long.
The only other area arguably in need of rotation is the midfield, but finding the right partner for N’Golo Kante will definitely pose a challenge for Conte. Fabregas' poor run of form should see him dropped, in any case.
Therefore, my predicted line-up is as follows:
Courtois | Rüdiger, Christensen, Azpilicueta | Emerson, Kante, Bakayoko, Zappacosta | Hazard, Morata, Willian
The WAGNH community’s preferred line-up is the exact same as the predicted one (hurray for consensus!) and this doesn't necessarily come as a surprise. Even though this starting eleven doesn't involve heavy rotation, some key areas are freshened up and the wing back positions, which are crucial in the 3-4-3, are provided with two players that have a point to prove. We could certainly use some great performances from them, as well as Bakayoko showing some improvement in the middle of the pitch.
Courtois (81%) | Rüdiger (93%), Christensen (82%), Azpilicueta (95%) | Emerson (62%), Kanté (92%), Bakayoko (51%), Zappacosta (55%) | Hazard (82%), Morata (72%), Willian (87%)