Chelsea?s successful run of form through Christmas hit the buffers with a dismal display in midweek, losing 1-0 at home to bottom club Queen?s Park Rangers. Interim coach Rafael Benitez blamed the lack-lustre display on fatigue after a hectic winter schedule that included a fruitless trip to Japan for the World Club Cup. They have not had much time to reflect on Wednesday?s catastrophic defeat as they must now start their defence of the FA Cup against another struggling Premiership side in Southampton.
Saints fans will take heart from the fact that they have progressed from all four previous meetings with the Blues in this competition. Three of those matches went to a replay and, with Southampton having drawn their last three matches, there are good reasons for believing another draw could be on the cards on Saturday. The south coast side struggled with the demands of Premiership football at the beginning of the season but there were mitigating circumstances. They had by far the toughest run of fixtures of the three promoted clubs and it was inevitable that points would be hard to come by.
In recent weeks they have looked far more comfortable in the top flight, defeating Reading and holding their own against Stoke, Fulham and Arsenal. Their 1-1 draw with Arsenal was a measure of how much they have improved, having been thumped 6-1 in the reverse fixture in September. The Gunners were meeting them hot on the heels of their 7-3 mauling of Newcastle so it was a fine defensive display by the Saints to reduce the visitors to relying on an own-goal to escape with a point. Their skipper Adam Lallana will not be fit for the FA Cup clash but right-back Nathaniel Clyne should make the squad. Gaston Ramirez has been confirmed fit to play having recovered from a minor injury picked up during the Arsenal game.
Chelsea will be without Petr Cech on Saturday so Ross Turnbull continues in goal. They have completed the £7.5 million signing of striker Demba Ba from Newcastle this week and he could be straight into the action. Fernando Torres has been the only out-and-out striker employed by Chelsea this season and Benitez is keen to give him a rest. Ba scored 29 goals in 54 appearances for Newcastle and Blues fans will be hoping for big things from him in the second half of the season. The European champions surprised many observers in their failure to add a front-line striker to their summer signings and they have clearly missed the presence of Didier Drogba in attack.
The Blues are odds-on to win Saturday?s game with most sports betting firms. However, their poor midweek display and uncertainty over their starting line up casts a shadow of doubt of their prospects and the 3-1 about a draw may prove better value. Southampton are 9-2 to win the game with odds of 17-2 available about a 1-1 scoreline. If you fancy Demba Ba to score on his debut he is 11-10 to do so at any time during the match and 4-1 to open the scoring.