One of the few teams Southampton would want to see right now is one near the top of the table, but that’s exactly what they get on Saturday in Chelsea.
We spoke to David Pasztor of We Ain’t Got No History to talk everything Chelsea and learn more about our opponent.
St Mary’s Musings: First tell us a little bit about yourself - how you came to support Chelsea, etc. - and about the We Ain’t Got No History blog.
David Pasztor: A series of highly unlikely circumstances made a Chelsea fan out of me in the mid-to-late-90s, including the transfer of a certain Marcel Desailly from AC Milan, a computer game (CM 97-98), and, strangely enough, moving to the USA. I grew up watching Italian and German football, but over here, the English game was the only one (occasionally) available. Desailly brought me to Chelsea as a teen, and the rest is history.
Speaking of having history and the ironic play on the phrase that gives our blog its title, I became involved at WAGNH in my attempts to consume everything and anything in the wake of signing Fernando Torres in January 2011. That move didn't quite work out as we might have imagined, but the blog has been a part of my life ever since as I slowly moved up from commenter to contributor to, for the last few years, editor and manager, through a series of mild takes and, dare I say, common sense looks at all the nonsense that gets written in the football media at large.
SMM: So is Antonio Conte going to be at Chelsea next season or is it another one of those Roman Abramovich hard-headed deals?
DP: Conte has already exceeded the average lifespan of a non-interim Chelsea manager in the Roman Era, so we're already into the bonus round(s) here. Whether he continues I suspect has almost as much to do with him as with the club though; there's plenty of hard-headed vibes on both sides, but there are also seems to be an understanding that we're stronger together and that we can build something good in the next few years.
SMM: Chelsea spent a reported club-record fee of £60-million on Alvaro Morata this summer. How has he fit in at his new club and what dynamic has he brought that previous strikers haven’t?
DP: Morata has fit in very well despite a few injury issues and despite needing to adapt still to life in the Premier League. He has a few annoying habits that need to be unlearned, and when things don't quite go perfectly for him (whether in terms of finishing chances or just overall play), he reminds a bit too much of non-peak Torres. Otherwise it's been a good start to life at Chelsea for him and one that gives us something solid to build upon for the future.
In terms of playing style, he's essentially the opposite of Diego Costa, and not just on the pitch but in terms of personality as well. He's got great technique, skills, aerial ability, tactical awareness but lacks the snarl and the single-minded drive (and of course the constant controversies and antics) of his predecessor. That's both and good and bad, but we're mostly happy with him.
SMM: With Manchester City on a historic run and the title seemingly out of reach, what would make for a good season at the end of the year?
DP: Top four (preferably second) and a deep run in the Champions League (beating Barcelona would be excellent already), and in the two domestic cups. Any silverware from that point would upgrade the season to very good.
SMM: The January transfer window is fast approaching and Chelsea was linked with Ross Barkley in the summer -- will a move materialise for the Everton midfielder or is it all talk? Is he a player that fits in with what is being built at the club?
DP: Chelsea appear adamant about Barkley, but part of the reason he stayed in the summer was that he preferred Spurs instead (with whom Everton stopped talking for some reason). Not sure why Barkley would've changed his mind in that regard, but it doesn't hurt to ask, I suppose.
While he certainly divides opinion in terms of actual talent and ability and promise, he could be a relative bargain and one who's homegrown, which is something that's always in short supply at Chelsea.
SMM: To an outsider, Willian always feels like an afterthought of a character to Chelsea yet he continues to make impacts in big games. Is he underappreciated and/or overlooked by fans?
DP: Familiarity breeds contempt as the saying goes and Willian certainly has had some of that thrown his way over the years. I don't think he's necessarily underappreciated -- we mostly know what the expect from him after 4.5 seasons -- and he's certainly not overlooked, but he's not been first-choice for Conte outside of a couple months at the very beginning of last season, and that's not without valid reason (i.e. he's not Hazard and he's not as direct as Pedro).
SMM: Chelsea gave highly-rated Welsh defender Ethan Ampadu his Premier League debut. Could he be one to escape the dreaded years out on loan and make a permanent breakthrough into the squad in the coming year or two?
DP: Probably not. Suspect he'll be hitting the loan trail sooner rather than later. For better or worse, the only viable pathway into the first-team lies through there, as demonstrated by Courtois, Christensen, and even Victor Moses.
SMM: Chelsea has draw Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16. What chances do you give the Blues to advance past the mighty Catalan giants?
DP: Conte has a relatively poor record in knockout competitions, and this is no longer the "Old Guard" of Chelsea who seemed to always step it up a notch in Europe. But there's a feeling that this isn't peak Barcelona anymore either, so perhaps we have a chance. We've had some fantastic performances in Europe this season (2-1 over Atletico away comes to mind), but also some abjectly poor ones (mostly against Roma), so it'll largely depend which Chelsea show up and how the squad's confidence and cohesion evolves between now and then.
SMM: Who on Chelsea should be a cause of concern for Saints fans?
DP: Eden Hazard is the obvious answer, so let's go with Eden Hazard. That said, the deep cross from Azpilicueta to Morata's head has been an unexpected and hilariously consistent source of goals that only recently have opposition teams started thinking about ways to cut off.
SMM: Despite our often toothless attack is there someone on Southampton that could pose a problem for Chelsea?
DP: We've kept one clean sheet in the last six games, so I wouldn't be surprised if we contrived to give something away once again. Chelsea have especially had issues with slow starts to games recently. If I were a betting man, I'd put a fiver on the always pesky Shane Long getting his first of the season.
SMM: Finally, a prediction?
DP: 2-1 Chelsea, as much as I hate making predictions.
We would like to thank David for his time! You can follow him on Twitter @D_Peezy, and We Ain’t Got No History (@WAGNH_CFC).