Chelsea will travel to Southampton to take on the Saints in the third round of the F.A. Cup. The Blues are the defending champions, beating Liverpool in the final last year.
For as much as Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez has been the subject of ire among supporters, the club has begun to string results together on the pitch.
Southampton was promoted back to the Premier League this season, and it looks much like a side that could go right back down. The Saints are in 17th place, level on points with Wigan.
Here's everything you need to know about this Saturday's cup clash.
Where: St Mary's Stadium, Southampton, England
When: Saturday, Jan. 5 at 10 a.m.
Watch: FOX Soccer
Stream: Fox Soccer 2Go
What's at Stake?
As said before, Chelsea are the reigning champions. Benitez has always been a good manager when it comes to knockout tournaments. With the Blues out of the Champions League, the F.A. Cup presents perhaps the biggest tournament for the Blues the rest of the way.
It wouldn't be a monumental upset for Southampton but a huge feather in its cap nonetheless. The Saints are hovering in the relegation zone, so making a deep run in the F.A. Cup could be a highlight of the season.
What They're Saying
Southampton is fresh off a 1-1 draw with Arsenal on New Year's Day. It was a great result for the club considering the Gunners were coming off a 7-3 demolition of Newcastle a few days prior. Manager Nigel Adkins was very satisfied with the match. He told the BBC:
It was a good performance. Arsenal have been scoring a shed load of goals and we nullified that threat and carried plenty of threat ourselves.
The own-goal was a spawny one that came off his toe but these things happen and we'll get the rub of the green soon.
They started brightly but we stuck out it, grew in confidence and played well.
Much of the story around Chelsea remains the long-term future of Frank Lampard. As his contract is up in the summer, he's free to sign a pre-contract with any foreign club. His two goals at Goodison Park on the weekend have pushed many to argue that the Blues would be crazy to let him go. After the win over Everton, Benitez said (via The Guardian):
"Frank is under contract, he's fully committed and he's a great player," he said. "My job is to keep him fit and, if he scores in every game, I will be really pleased. Lampard is a great player, he is a good professional, he is doing well for us. I will try to bring the best from him until the end of the season and you never know."
Southampton Player to Watch: Rickie Lambert
Many thought that Rickie Lambert would fail to be the goal scorer that he was in the Championship last season. While it was unfair to expect Lambert not to fall off a bit, he's remained a solid striker and linchpin of the Saints' attack.
His eight Premier League goals leads the club.
Midfielders Gaston Ramirez and Adam Lallana have been vital as well. But if Lambert isn't there to finish, it's doubtful Southampton has much of a chance.
Chelsea Player to Watch: Juan Mata
Juan Mata leads Chelsea in Premier League assists, with seven, while also tying Fernando Torres with the lead in goals.
As important as Lambert is to Southampton, Mata might be equally so for the Blues. And that's impressive when you consider the wealth of talent the club possesses.
He was great in the F.A. Cup last year, scoring four goals and adding another four assists in seven matches.
It's hard to look past Chelsea for this one, considering the talent advantage the Blues posses.
These two clubs were supposed to meet in mid-December, but the match was postponed as a result of Chelsea playing in the Club World Cup. So you can't look at a previous matchup this season for a prediction.
Southampton is on a good run. In addition to the draw against Arsenal, the Saints drew with Fulham and Stoke City as well, which should also be considered points gained rather than points lost.
However, Chelsea are really starting to hit form. The 3-1 loss to West Ham in early December is a distant memory.
Chelsea 3, Southampton 1
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