Southampton manager, Mark Hughes has vowed to make the most of the opportunity they have when they travel Wembley to face Chelsea this weekend in the semi-final of the FA Cup.
The Saints have embarked on a poor run in the league but have found some form in the FA Cup, claiming wins over Fulham, Watford, West Brom and Wigan Athletic to reach this stage.
It’s been a nice distraction for everyone associated with the club but the ultimate priority is to secure their status in the Premier League for next season.
Hughes’ side come into the game on the back of a 0-0 draw at the King Power Stadium against Leicester City on Thursday night, in what was a poor performance on the night.
Chelsea are heavy favourites to progress to the final but Saints have conceded just one goal in the competition this season, having being able to play freely without the pressure of Premier League points.
The West London club have a good pedigree in the FA Cup, having won the competition on seven occasions, losing last season’s final to Arsenal.
Saints have won the competition just once back in 1976 and struggled in last season’s competition. They were eliminated by eventual winners Arsenal in the 4th round at St Mary’s in a 5-0 defeat.
The Saints have picked up just one point in the league since they beat Wigan in the previous round, meaning Saints really need to turn things around if they are to cause an upset against Chelsea this weekend.
Chelsea have struggled this season and Saints will look to take advantage of their frailties as they look to secure their first major trophy since 1976.
The two sides have met twice this season, with Chelsea claiming narrow wins on both occasions. Chelsea won 1-0 at Stamford Bridge, while they also claimed a 3-2 victory at St Mary’s last weekend.
Antonio Conte has come under huge scrutiny this season but has responded in the last week, winning their two Premier League games to boost their slim Champions League hopes. They come into the game on the back of a 2-1 win at Turf Moor against Burnley on Thursday evening.
The Saints will be looking for revenge after being 2-0 up last weekend against the Blues before going on to taste defeat after an eight-minute capitulation.
This is a vital game for both sides but for different reasons. For Saints, they simply have to win to build momentum ahead of their Premier League run-in. For Chelsea, however, they are likely to miss out on the top four, so need to win a trophy to avoid coming away from the season with nothing.
There is likely to be a number of changes for both sides in this one, as this game is the third of the week for the respective clubs.
Saints boss Hughes sat down and spoke to the media on Friday ahead of the semi-final at Wembley. As reported by the club’s official website, Hughes said:
It’s not every season you get the opportunity to get to a major cup final. We’ll be going with the view that it’s an opportunity you don’t let pass you by.
It’s been difficult because of the strength of fixtures we’ve faced but the guys have wholeheartedly embraced what we’ve put to them. There’s a lot of things I see which are improving.
We won’t be making radical changes, but we need to use our resources in the best way we can.
In terms of team news, Saints are set to welcome back Sofiane Boufal from illness, whilst Mario Lemina will face a late fitness test after missing the Leicester game with a back injury. Defender, Jack Stephens serves the final game of his three-match suspension.
As for Chelsea, David Luiz and Ethan Ampadu remain sidelined with ankle injuries while Danny Drinkwater is also out with a calf strain. Marcos Alonso serves the second game of his three-match suspension.
It’s a crucial game for both sides at Wembley on Sunday and I expect this to be a very exciting contest between two teams who have been very poor defensively in recent weeks.
I think that Saints will edge this one 2-1 on Sunday afternoon at Wembley stadium.