Chelsea have dropped to fourth place in the Premier League after Saturday afternoons 2-1 defeat at Southampton.
Jay Rodriguez gave the hosts the lead on twenty-three minutes with a neat finish, though Blues captain John Terry nodded in an equaliser ten minutes later.
However, Saints top scorer Rickie Lambert restored Southampton’s advantage with a superb free kick soon after to condemn Rafael Benitez’s side to a third consecutive away defeat.
Chelsea are now two points behind third place Tottenham Hotspur with a game in hand, though Arsenal closed the game on the top four to just two points with victory over Reading.
Benitez was quick to defend his selection, which was made with consideration to a run of fixtures that includes three games in the next six days, starting with this afternoon’s FA Cup Quarter Final replay against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.
Juan Mata, who missed Saturday’s defeat through illness, is set to return to the starting line-up along with Ashley Cole, David Luiz and Demba Ba and Eden Hazard, though Gary Cahill remains doubtful after injuring his knee against West Ham United a fortnight ago.
2011 Cup winners Manchester City await the winners in the semi-final, which will be played at Wembley on April 14th.