Chelsea return from this silly international break with a match against visitors Southampton. What things should fans look for against the Saints?
After looking like presumptive relegation candidates at this time last season, Ralph Hassenhuttl’s side already looks nailed on for a top-half finish this time around. No particular Saints player necessarily jumps off the page, but it’s a solid team with enough quality to trouble even the best opposition. The Blues will have their work cut out for them.
1. How to corral Danny Ings?
Despite Southampton being a veritable train wreck for the first half of the season, Danny Ings had no problem knocking in the goals at a rate that belied his club’s lackluster performances. Ings finished with 22 goals, just shy of Jamie Vardy’s golden boot-winning total of 23. To show the rarity of his exploits, the next highest goal scorers from a bottom-half team were Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, with 13 each for Everton.
It would be a bit unfair to call him a one-man wrecking crew, but he was unquestionably the alpha and omega of Southampton’s attacking play. And, just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, Ings already has three goals to his name this season, tied with the ever-prolific Jorginho.
Suffice to say, the best way to stop Southampton is to stop Ings. It’s obviously easier said than done. He’s the kind of player that doesn’t seem to have any obvious strengths that need to be addressed, which makes him particularly difficult to deal with. In truth, his greatest skill is just being the right place at the right time, and finding just enough space to get a shot off.
That being the case, Chelsea’s center backs will need to be on full alert to prevent Ings from sneaking into a pocket of space in the box. The good news is that an experienced veteran like Thiago Silva should know all about awareness in the box. While no one would accuse Silva of possessing any impressive physical gifts at his age, dealing with a crafty striker like Ings is more about excellent positioning and speed of thought, both of which Silva has in spades. As long as he can effectively communicate with his center back partner, presumably Kurt Zouma, it should be possible to keep Ings relatively quiet.