Tonight the Bridge hosts the first of three consecutive home games with evening kick-offs. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton shine a spotlight on the visit by the Saints.
Heady days are here again at Stamford Bridge. The prospect of Antonio Conte emulating his friend and countryman Carlo Ancelotti in completing a league and FA Cup double in his debut season is one step closer to reality after last weekend at Wembley.
The fact the semi-final victory came against closest challengers and local rivals Tottenham Hotspur added a delicious aftertaste, but it is back to the main course this evening.
With Spurs playing tomorrow, victory against Southampton would extend the lead back to seven points with five games remaining, and it matters not how the match is won.
Antonio Conte’s side need a maximum 15 points from a possible 18 to become Premier League champions once more, and eight points at most to secure Champions League qualification for 2017/18.
Eden Hazard scored his 70th goal for the Blues at Wembley against Tottenham, becoming the 18th Chelsea player to reach that milestone.
No doubt N’Golo Kante will have an extra spring in his step (if that is physically possible) now he has been confirmed as the PFA Players’ Player of the Year for 2017. The league leaders filled the top two places, voted for by their peers, with Eden Hazard runner-up.
‘We have to fight for six more games,’ said the award-winner. ‘We’re going to fight like a final for every game.’
Now the FA Cup semi-finals are out of the way, there are no distractions from that league title run-in. Of the half-dozen games remaining, Chelsea play four at home, starting tonight, while four of rivals Tottenham’s half-dozen will be on the road, including a trip to in-form Crystal Palace tomorrow.
At the weekend, the Blues’ FA Cup final opponents Arsenal will aim to add to the disappointment of beaten semi-finalists Spurs at White Hart Lane. (The Gunners have lost one of the past nine north London derbies.) As with the midweek fixtures, Mauricio Pochettino’s men will be playing catch-up to Chelsea, who are at Goodison Park earlier the same day. It is vital the vastly experienced Blues keep pocketing the points and crank up the pressure on the Lilywhites, who are seeking to win the league for the first time for 56 years.
Three of Chelsea’s remaining games are against teams comfortably in the middle of the table: Watford, West Brom, and tonight’s visitors Southampton. Two other opponents, Middlesbrough and Sunderland, may be relegated before we meet them towards the end of the campaign.
Some may believe Southampton, currently ninth in the table under Claude Puel, have little to play for and they slipped to a 0-3 home defeat by Manchester City 10 days ago – their last matchday involvement. Yet everyone wants to beat title favourites and they have a recent record at Stamford Bridge that would be the envy of many. That said, the visitors have failed to keep a clean sheet in their past 13 top-flight encounters with the Blues.
Bookmakers did not alter their Premier League odds after the league leaders’ cup victory over their title rivals, but the nature of the defeat may inflict damage on the north Londoners’ self-belief. Equally, hitting four past what is statistically the best defence in the league will have done the Chelsea team a power of good after the disappointing shut-out at Old Trafford the previous weekend. Since 4 January, Spurs have shaved three points off the Blues’ lead, but the timing of their recent surge has given them encouragement.
Arsenal’s win over Manchester City on the other half of the draw ensures Chelsea will have had to beat Man United, Spurs and the Gunners in order to lift the FA Cup this season. It would be success earned the hard way.
There is a certain symmetry, too, about the last kick of season now coming on 27 May against Arsene Wenger’s side, given that the Blues’ campaign only took off after the bad defeat at the Emirates in September.
Seeing off Spurs always goes down well with Blues supporters, who have really found voice again in recent games. Such vocal backing will be required more than ever to push the players all the way over the line in the last few league games to come. We have done that before, and we can do it again.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS EVENING…
A return to seven points clear at the top of the table with our seventh league double of the campaign.
The second leg of a finely-poised FA Youth Cup final also takes place at the Bridge tomorrow. Jody Morris’s Under-18s drew 1-1 in the first leg at Manchester City’s Minihad and looked the better side most of the game.
The brilliant young Blues are aiming to make it a remarkable four trophy wins in a row for the club. The game is sold out but will be live on Chelsea TV.
Culled from ChelseaFC.com