Antonio Conte could call on a couple of game changers to help Chelsea past Tottenham in the FA Cup.
Much was made ahead of Chelsea’s FA Cup semifinal with Tottenham about the psychological impact the result would have on the title race between the pair.
The theory was whoever prevailed would take mental strength from the outcome and wrestle the advantage from the other in the Premier League.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was asked what he thought about such an idea and he brushed it aside, advising that the FA Cup and the Premier League were two different competitions.
Conte, of course, was correct in his summary, nevertheless the emphatic nature of Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Spurs suggests the spirit within the Blues’ camp will be at an all-time high for the season – less so, perhaps, in north London.
Further daggers to Tottenham hearts can be found in the stats from last Saturday’s semifinal.
Tottenham enjoyed 63% possession, had 11 corners to one and took 13 shots to eight.
Plenty of observes suggested Mauricio Pochettino’s team played the better football, and the numbers would appear to back this reasoning up.
The thing is, Chelsea had five shots on target and scored with four of them.
Game over, end of argument.
Conte won the tactical battle of wits with Pochettino, and the fact the Italian was able to summon from the bench world class players in the shape of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas underlined the reason why Chelsea are favourites to beat Tottenham in the title race.
They have the better squad and at a time when the fixture list becomes congested, this could prove to be a major factor.
Against Southampton this Tuesday, Conte will be expected to restore Hazard to his starting XI, but with a tougher-looking away fixture with Everton looming at the weekend, the Blues boss could well manage the Belgium international’s game time, restricting him perhaps to one hour.
Two-goal Wembley hero Willian, who played 61 minutes of the Spurs game, could find himself on the bench against Southampton to accommodate the retention of Pedro and Hazard’s inclusion while Costa should start ahead of Michy Batshuayi, who also featured for the first hour at Wembley.
Tactically, Conte must decide if the creative flair that Fabregas brings to a game is better suited against Southampton or Everton.
A 74th minute substitute against Tottenham, the Spaniard delivered Chelsea’s solitary corner from which Hazard would eventually score the crucial third goal.
The 29-year old was also heavily involved in the build-up to Nemanja Matic’s thunderous strike which put the game beyond Spurs.
Eden Hazard came off the bench to make a decisive contribution for Chelsea.
Chelsea beat Tottenham last Saturday, to reach the FA Cup final.
Elsewhere, there is one question mark: Gary Cahill.
The Chelsea centre-back and regular skipper missed out on Wembley through illness.
Conte opted to play 22-year old Nathan Ake in his place, and what was perceived by some as a gamble proved to be a masterstroke.
Ake’s tackling, interceptions and clearances had a maturity about them which had Chelsea supporters purring.
The academy product, who has been with the Blues since he was 15, also completed a team-best 40 passes.
Should Cahill fail to recover, Ake could well keep his place though Conte does have Kurt Zouma available for selection if he has concerns about the youngster’s fatigue.
For John Terry, though, there appears to be no way back.
Perhaps if Chelsea win the title with a game or two to spare, Conte will allow the 36-year old veteran one last hurrah.
It’s what Blues fans would want.
Victory over Southampton would extend Chelsea’s lead over Tottenham to seven points and with Pochettino’s side facing a tricky match away at resurgent Crystal Palace the following evening, it could prove decisive should Spurs fail to take all three points at Selhurst Park.
The memory of Palace, who stunned Liverpool by winning 2-1 at Anfield on Sunday, defeating Chelsea by the same score at Stamford Bridge last month will ensure there was no complacency in the Blues’ dressing room ahead of the Southampton game.
Conte will have his players’ minds fully focused on the task at hand.
The Saints, conversely, are midtable with little to play for, and the attendant lack of motivation which was apparent when they were beaten 3-0 last time out by Manchester City could be a factor at the Bridge. – ESPN