Mauricio Pochettino once referred to Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho as “the best of the best”. Prior to this weekend’s encounter at Stamford Bridge, the Southampton boss was asked to expound on his thoughts regarding ‘The Special One’. Pochettino rarely speaks English during interviews and press conferences; the majority of his statements are made through an interpreter: “I think he’s one of the best managers in football history. His record speaks for itself. We have a very good relationship, but at the same time while before and after the games we will be friends, during the full 90 minutes we’re not going to be friends, we’re just going to be rivals.”
During their time in La Liga, Mourinho’s Real Madrid side were four for four in matches against Pochettino and his Spanish club, Espanyol; the combined score of all four contests was 13-0. Last season, with Rafa Benitez at the helm, Pochettino directed Southampton to a shock 2-1 win over the Blues at St Mary’s Stadium. And prior to the hiring of the Portuguese manager, the Saints (under Nigel Adkins) came from two goals down at Stamford Bridge to salvage a 2-2 draw against the defending European champions. So in spite of Pochettino’s poor head-to-head record against Mourinho, he and Southampton will enter Sunday’s encounter with plenty of confidence.
Southampton will welcome back Jack Cork and Gaston Ramirez to their lineup. Cork missed last week’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal with an ankle injury whilst Ramirez returned back late from international duty. Saints defender Luke Shaw will also return to the squad after suffering a knock during the opening 45 minutes of the match at the Emirates. Adam Lallana will also see considerable time after being removed in the 54th minute due to fatigue of that contest (he had previously started in both of England’s friendlies during the international break).
Despite the loss to the first place Gunners, Southampton won the possession battle against Arsenal, a feat rarely accomplished by an opponent in London. Although their possession advantage didn’t generate any scoring chances, the Saints were within striking distance of Arsenal until they conceded an 86th minute penalty and only had themselves (or goalkeeper Artur Boruc) to blame for the Gunners opening goal. Southampton were inspiring at the Emirates, playing with spirit and adventure, and are likely to be an unpleasant opponent for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Football experts are still split over Southampton and their ability to compete with the Premier League’s “serious” top four competitors, but the Saints and their manager are unfazed by the doubters. The Saints will take confidence in the fact that they were able to win at Anfield and earn a late draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford. “We are going to continue playing the same way, we’re going to continue playing with the same philosophy, with the same idea of how we execute our football” Pochettino said.
While Southampton are unified, Chelsea are a team still searching for its identity under Mourinho. The Blues enter the weekend with twenty-four points and are third on the Premier League table; trailing league-leading Arsenal by four points. The wide-open title race has allowed Mourinho and his side to stay in striking distance of the Gunners despite an inconsistent month of November in the Premier League (1 W, 1 D, 1 L). This after Chelsea went undefeated in the league during October, including a 2-1 win over Manchester City.