Southampton host Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon, in a clash that sees a team three points off the bottom of the league take on a team two points off the top.
The Saints have struggled so far this season, recording just a single win in their opening seven fixtures. They came close to winning against Brighton last month, but a late penalty saw victory slip through their fingers.
Chelsea are having no such problems, with Sunday presenting the opportunity for them to temporarily take top spot in the Premier League. Whilst they remain unbeaten under Maurizio Sarri, they have drawn their last two league games and their trip to Southampton is a perfect chance to return to winning ways.
Here are three key battles that could decide the outcome of Sunday afternoon’s clash.
1. Eden Hazard vs. Cedric Soares
Eden Hazard is showing signs of this season being his most successful one yet on a personal level, as he flourishes under the management of Maurizio Sarri. The form that he is experiencing at the moment makes him a handful for any defence and the way that he roams around the field finding pockets of space makes him a nightmare to man mark.
The Belgian international glides around the pitch, allowing Chelsea to turn defence into attack with ease, and the only thing that looks likely to stop Hazard firing his team to glory at the moment, is interest from elsewhere when the transfer window opens in January.
With Hazard predominantly deployed on the left side of the Chelsea attack, the job of monitoring him will fall to Portuguese full-back Cedric. The 27-year-old is highly regarded in the Premier League and further afield and Sunday will be a perfect opportunity for him to show his true quality.
2. Olivier Giroud vs. Jannik Vestergaard
Expected to operate in the centre of Chelsea’s attacking trio this weekend is Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman is always a goalscoring threat and the ability of Chelsea’s wide players to provide inch-perfect deliveries will only enhance that.
Giroud has scored 29 headed goals during his Premier League career, highlighting that a key aspect of Southampton‘s attempts to isolate his threat comes in eradicating his aerial opportunities.
Southampton’s summer acquisition Jannik Vestergaard stands at 6ft 7in tall, which is perfect for a centre back attempting to deal with a striker who poses such danger in the air. If Vestergaard can track the movement of Giroud, he will be well positioned to keep him quiet.
3. Danny Ings vs. David Luiz
At the other end, Danny Ings‘ goal during the week will boost his confidence to be a regular on the Southampton scoresheet and demonstrate the ability that attracted the initial interest from Liverpool in the past.
The Saints may see their opportunities limited on Sunday so Ings will have to be sharp from the first whistle to punish any lapses in concentration from the visitors. Even without the ball, the former Burnley man can have an impact by applying pressure to the ball and trying to force mistakes from David Luiz.
The Brazilian defender has undeniable quality, but it has been seen on numerous occasions in the past that he is capable of making catastrophic errors. If Luiz attempts to overplay and Ings can catch him out, Southampton could cause an upset.