Rafa Benitez takes his Blues side to St Mary’s in search of progress to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup.
Rafael Benitez admits Chelsea’s FA Cup third round tie at Southampton has taken on added significance in the wake of their shock Premier League defeat to QPR.
Benitez conceded in the wake of Wednesday’s 1-0 home loss to the division’s bottom club that, with the Blues now lying 14 points behind Manchester United, they require a miraculous run to win the Premier League.
Chelsea’s European ambitions now lie in the Europa League following their failure to get through the Champions League group stage and, while they will face Swansea in the League Cup semi-finals next week, Benitez knows the Blues can ill afford another upset at St Mary’s this weekend.
The west London club’s record in the FA Cup is impressive, with three final victories in the last four years including last season’s success over Liverpool.
After a troubled season, more silverware at Wembley in May would be welcome and would at least partly vindicate Benitez’s claims he could revive the side after being installed as interim manager in place of Roberto Di Matteo.
The first barrier they face is an improving Southampton side who now lie outside the Premier League relegation zone on goal difference after a difficult start to the season.
Chelsea should be strengthened by the return to the starting line-up of Juan Mata, Ramires, Ashley Cole and Eden Hazard, controversially left on the bench against QPR.
Benitez insisted he had no regrets about that decision, claiming his players are suffering after a punishing December schedule that included a trip to Japan for the Club World Cup.
“It’s hard, especially for us when we were playing so many games with some players,” said Benitez.
“We have to manage it and sometimes if you manage it wrong you can say it is a mistake. But you have to try to manage it.”
Fernando Torres is one of the players Benitez believes is feeling the strain, but with Daniel Sturridge having left for Liverpool and Demba Ba unlikely to have completed the formalities of his £7 million move from Newcastle, the striker is again likely to lead the line.
“Fernando is one of the players (who is tired),” Benitez said. “You can see two or three who have been playing too many games in the last month.”
Petr Cech and John Terry will both be missing from the trip to the south coast where Southampton midfielder Jack Cork will face his former club.
Cork came through the ranks at Stamford Bridge but never made a competitive first team appearance and admits he was thrilled by the draw.
“I’m just looking forward to playing against them really as I never got the opportunity to play with them whilst I was there,” he said.
“It’s a shame it’s not at Stamford Bridge, but certainly over the last four or five years I’ve looked at the draw and said please let’s get Chelsea.”
However, Cork knows his former club will still be smarting from the defeat to QPR and fears a backlash.
“I think they’ll be out to prove a point,” he said. “Some people are convinced they played a weakened side against QPR, but whichever side they put out it’s never going to be a weak team.
“Hopefully we could take advantage if they’re on the start of a bad run.
“We could look at it either way, but there’s not much pressure on us really.
“A Cup run would be great and it could help our league form, but the league is our main priority at the minute, and that will be our main focus.”
Southampton manager Nigel Adkins will be without captain Adam Lallana (knee) for their match against Chelsea.
Right-back Nathaniel Clyne and forward Gaston Ramirez are expected to come into contention.
Former Newcastle striker Demba Ba is set to make his Chelsea debut after completing his move on Friday.
John Mikel Obi and Victor Moses will be available before travelling to the Africa Cup of Nations but John Terry (knee) and Petr Cech (groin) are out.
Cork, Yoshida, Fonte, Shaw
Puncheon, Ward-Prowse, Ramirez
Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Bertrand
Moses, Oscar, Marin
Head to head
• Seven wins separate these clubs after 88 competitive meetings over 89 years; Southampton have won 28, Chelsea 35.
• Chelsea are unbeaten in six Premier League games against Southampton and are looking for a fifth straight victory over them.
• But Southampton hold a 100% record against Chelsea in the FA Cup, and are plotting to knock them out for the fifth time. Most recently Saints notched a 3-1 third round victory in 1981. The three previous ties all required replays.
• Southampton have failed to make it into the fourth round just once in eight seasons, and that was when they were drawn against Manchester United in 2009.
• The 1976 winners, who last appeared in the final for the fourth time in their history in 2003, have beaten Premier League opposition only once in the last seven occasions they have been drawn against them. Blackpool were beaten 2-0 in the third round at St Mary’s two years ago.
• This is the ninth time in 11 FA Cup rounds that the Saints have been drawn at home.
• Chelsea are the current FA Cup holders and boast the best recent record in the FA Cup. The seven-times winners, also lifted the trophy most recently in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
• They are unbeaten in 23 FA Cup matches (W19, D4), and have lost one of the last 34.
• Everton were the last club to knock them out, but they had to win a penalty shoot-out in the fourth round replay in February 2011 in order to do so.
SOURCE: BBC Sport
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