Chelsea head to Southampton on Saturday in a crunch game for both sides’ respective Premier League ambitions.
The Blues sit third, a point clear of Tottenham in the race for the automatic Champions League berth, but will know only too well the threat Southampton pose at St Mary’s, after they brushed aside Liverpool 3-1 in the last round of fixtures.
Automatic qualification will be on Chelsea’s radar on Saturday; so too the small matter of their FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United on Monday.
That second-leg tie at Stamford Bridge will inevitably hinder Rafael Benitez’s preparations given it falls less than 48 hours later.
In fact, Chelsea are scheduled to play four times in eight days – including their Europa League tie with Rubin Kazan and Premier League clash with Sunderland next Sunday.
Benitez may look to the likes of Yossi Benayoun, Marko Marin, Victor Moses and Oscar to freshen up his line-up, while strikers Fernando Torres and Demba Ba will have to share the workload up front.
Frank Lampard has scored in five of his past seven Premier League games, allaying fears the club will stand by their decision not to table a new deal.
He is in a rich vein of form and will look to lift his side on the road, but there can be no underestimating the task at St Mary’s, where Saints have played some terrific football this season, also beating champions Manchester City 3-1 in February.
Southampton clawed their way back to secure a 2-2 draw last time the sides met at Stamford Bridge in January, just days before Nigel Adkins was unceremoniously dumped as manager.
Worryingly for Southampton, precociously talented left-back Luke Shaw protested his love for Chelsea on Twitter during the week but the club will be hoping he honours the five-year deal he signed earlier in the season.
He will line up in red for Southampton, who can put further breathing space between themselves and the bottom three with more points on Saturday.
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