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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Chelsea should book final spot by beating sorry Southampton

Mark Hughes likely to ring the changes for struggling Saints

Antonio Conte and Mark Hughes lock horns at Wembley
1 of 1

FA Cup semi-final
BT Sport 1, 3pm Sunday

Punters hoping last Saturday’s Premier League meeting between Southampton and Chelsea would provide a clear marker for their FA Cup semi at Wembley were left disappointed.

Saints, superb for a half and more as they built up a 2-0 lead, went to pieces as soon as they came under some pressure.

Chelsea, abysmal for 45 minutes, came to life in the last half hour and were left to celebrate the unlikeliest of 3-2 wins.

It was a match that confirmed Southampton can definitely compete with the top teams – and also illustrated their weaknesses at the back which explain why they are in such dire straits in the league. The match also showed two very different sides of Chelsea.

Since that match both teams have had league games to play.

Antonio Conte was in a privileged enough position to be able to give Eden Hazard and Willian a rest at Burnley and was delighted with a 2-1 win.

Mark Hughes, in contrast, had no choice but to go full-strength at Leicester, where a 0-0 draw did precious little for their survival chances, and confirmed to Sparky that next weekend’s crunch local spat against Bournemouth is weighing heavily on his mind this weekend.

Hughes has said he will make changes at Wembley, although quality depth at St Mary’s is thin on the ground, the upshot of a perfect storm of selling off so many players just when their famed academy has started to dry up.

Southampton’s last two visits to Wembley over the last 12 months – the 2016-17 League Cup final and their league trip to Tottenham – have seen them ship eight goals. Chelsea’s three trips to Wembley over the same period have produced a pair of wins over Tottenham and an FA Cup final loss to Arsenal with seven goals scored and five conceded.

Chelsea are the better team and Southampton won’t be at full strength, which suggests a punt on the favourites. But this is a free hit for a Saints’ side who showed last Saturday they can be bright going forward, so maybe a bet on Chelsea with both teams scoring is the way forward.

Hughes could take a punt on pacy youngster Josh Sims, who deserves a full 90 minutes. The Welsh gaffer has demanded his side be more expansive and Sims will stretch any defence. The 21-year-old could be worth a nibble at 13-2 to score at any time.

Chelsea are notionally weaker without Marcos Alonso, although Emerson looked lively in his place at Turf Moor, while Conte also has to decide whether to field both the luckless Alvaro Morata and the admirable Olivier Giroud, who scored twice off the bench at St Mary’s.

This is Giroud’s sixth FA Cup campaign and he has scored 14 goals in 25 appearances.

It’s one win in eight for Southampton who haven’t beaten a top-six side since a 1-0 win at Liverpool in the League Cup 15 months ago.

Even at full-strength and mid-table, they’d be hard to like – and they are neither of those things.

Chelsea to win and both teams to score
1pt 12-5 Hills

Premier League standings

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Team news
Marcos Alonso is suspended. Antonio Conte has to decide whether to give Emerson a second start in four days.

Centre-back Jack Stephens is suspended. Mario Lemina hopes to recover from a knock.

Key stat
Southampton had conceded three goals in four consecutive league games prior to their 0-0 draw at Leicester.

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Antonio Conte was in a privileged enough position to be able to give Eden Hazard and Willian a rest at Burnley and was delighted with a 2-1 win
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