Chelsea have a mathematical chance of still finishing in the top four, and that is apparently enough to serve as motivation for a few players still. They can’t really say anything else of course when asked about such matters, but as this midweek’s Champions League action showed, it’s never over until it’s over in football. Except of course when it’s basically over, but no one remembers the non-comebacks.
In any case, beyond the top four lip service, the only meaning to this game for Chelsea is to serve as a sort of dress rehearsal for the FA Cup semifinal coming up next weekend against these same Saints. Then again, even when games are in such proximity, a league encounter often doesn’t have much bearing on the cup match, and vice-versa. We only have to look at 2012, when Chelsea beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final, 2-1, then lost 4-1 not 72 hours later. Vastly different teams were picked of course, but even without that obvious difference, a cup and league serves as different motivation, especially when one side has nothing to play for and the other have everything to play for.
What do Southampton have to play for? Why, only their Premier League survival. Currently three points below Crystal Palace, level on goal difference but with a game in-hand, Saints need these three points. Chelsea could also use three points, just to improve the mood, but beyond that, they’re just about worthless.
So, what would you do if you were Conte? The mood is already sour enough; do you risk, do you rest, do you revolutionize? Chelsea have one, maybe two meaningful games out of the 7 or 8 remaining. This is not one of them. But it could serve as practice for one of them. It could serve as motivation, as a confidence boost, as a tactics brainstorm. Or it could serve as another 90 minutes to slog through as we trundle towards the inevitable.
Assuming David Luiz and Ethan Ampadu remain out, and maybe Ross Barkley, too. Chelsea do have a midweek game before next weekend’s semifinal, a Thursday (to get us in the Europa mood) encounter at Burnley. It’s also UEFA Youth League finals weekend, so assuming all the kids will be there.