I think you could forgive Rafael Benitez if he asked the Premier League to swap the venue of Chelsea’s match against Southampton over to St Mary’s – and not just because his side enjoyed a fruitful trip there just ten days ago.
Because God knows, he mustn’t fancy playing at Stamford Bridge at the moment. The difference between Chelsea’s home form and what they are producing on the road couldn’t be bigger and as Benitez prepares his side for their Premier League game in hand against the Saints, he knows that he must also prepare himself to run the gauntlet of hate once more.
Simply, the Chelsea fans are never going to accept Benitez as their manager and there is nothing that either Rafa, Roman Abramovich or anybody else for that matter can do about it.
Part of this is understandable: Benitez’s tenure at Liverpool coincided with the start of a very fierce rivalry with the west London club and their then manager Jose Mourinho and as the barbs got increasingly personal and below the belt, Chelsea fans were only ever going to take one side.
But while not liking the man is one thing, to openly abuse him regularly as he tries to do his job – to make Chelsea a good football team, which is what the fans supposedly want, remember – paints the Blues fans in a bad light and it is clearly not helping the players.
Maybe that is the point, so the home faithful can turn around and say ‘I told you so’, but a cursory look at Chelsea’s results will tell you it is proving counterproductive to the team.
On the road, Chelsea have won seven of their nine games under Benitez, wining the last five consecutive matches while scoring 17 goals, five of which came in an FA Cup win against Southampton.
Contrast that to their travails at home, where, although there have been two thumping home wins against Aston Villa and Nordsjælland in Benitez’s six games, the other four have seen Chelsea fail to score a goal and they have los the last two to Queens Park Rangers and Swansea City.
And given all we know about the poisonous atmosphere, 11/50 seems awfully short for Chelsea to beat Southampton: of much more interest would be the 21/4 on the draw and the rather big-looking 10/1 on an away win.
Or, as I will be backing, a combination of the two plus a Blues win by the odd goal, because the 23/20 on Southampton with a two-goal start looks far too large to me.
After appearing woefully out of their depth at the start of the season, Saints are looking increasingly accomplished as a top-flight club and go to Stamford Bridge two points above the relegation zone in 15th place.
Nigel Adkins’ side are in good form, losing just two of the last 11 league matches, and one of their last five away trips, which was to Liverpool at Anfield.
In that 11-game run, they have let in more than one goal on just one occasion, which is an amazing turnaround after their defensive struggles earlier in the season, and I think if they can negotiate the first 20 minutes at the Bridge, they can get an edgy crowd to turn against their own team and make it a difficult night for Chelsea.
Of course, Chelsea spanked Southampton just ten days ago and if things click (and if Demba Ba starts instead of Fernando Torres) then that could well happen again.
But an odds-against price giving Saints a two-goal start is too big to ignore and it is worth taking a chance on the 23/20.
Top bet: Southampton to win in the 0-2 handicap market @ 23/20