Chelsea's captain John Terry lies on the ground during their English Premier League soccer match against Southampton at St. Mary's Stadium in Southampton

Chelsea hits another low in loss at Southampton

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Nobody could blame Rafa Benítez for trying to balance Chelsea’s priorities on Saturday, but after losing at Southampton with a weakened XI, the Blues boss has put his team in a terrible position. Chelsea are now in fourth place, only two points above Arsenal, while give back the head start built under Roberto Di Matteo. Even worse, the team now seems set to fight on three fronts, with an interim manager steering a regressing side potentially prioritizing cup competitions over a top four finish.

Look too deep into that statement and it becomes unfair to Benítez, as it wasn’t unreasonable for him to think a half-strength Chelsea could get win at St. Marys. Had he suspected his team could lose 2-1, Benítez surely would have started Eden Hazard. Or David Luiz, Demba Ba, Ramires, or Ashley Cole (wow, this list is long). He wouldn’t have started Marko Marin or Fernando Torres, and Yossi Benayoun – who (amazingly) was on the pitch at fulltime while Ba sat on the bench – wouldn’t have made the trip at all.

Instead, Benítez saw his excessively weak team given up first half goals to Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert, with only John Terry’s 33rd minute conversation getting his team on the board. At fulltime, it was hard to argue Chelsea deserved more than their 2-1 loss to Southampton.

Chelsea, with one of the most expensive playing squads in the world, were outshot and out-possessed by a team that came into the day battling relegation, and while those indicators don’t necessarily tell you how the match unfolded, they strongly suggest a team whose talent should roll through St. Mary’s failed to dictate the teams of the game. The Blues didn’t control play. They lacked urgency. They just weren’t that good.

source:  And that’s becoming a common refrain with Chelsea. Yes, there are frequent glimpses of the team’s talent, hints Rafa Benítez may have some idea of how to steer this barge home. But four months into his time at Stamford Bridge, Benítez has taken a third place team in Champions League that was on course to win the League Cup and crashed out of both competitions while allowing his team to be drawn into a fight to finish top four. This is not the level the club imagined when they bought Eden Hazard.

All of these references to Chelsea’s talent, wages, expectations – they got old months ago. Nothing’s changed. Ever since Benítez came on board, we’ve been able to recycle the same post: huge talent; deep pockets; few results; no apparent plan. Under Benítez, Chelsea have become a bloated, clumsy seal, destined to lose hope and roll off its iceberg, sinking out of significance.

He may hope silverware, be it the FA Cup or Europa League, will create a legacy. Just as he walked away from Inter Milan with faux redemption after winning the Club World Cup, Benítez may dream of lifting a trophy and thumbing a nose as he walks out the door. Nobody remembers that Inter was mid-table when he left, he might think. He may be kidding himself into believing nobody will remember fifth place if Chelsea snare Europa League or an FA Cup.

Putting aside the fact Chelsea have the type of resources to avoid either-or scenarios, finishing top four is much more important than winning the FA Cup. It’s much more important than winning Europa League. Finishing top four may not give Benítez the line on his resume he can spin going forward, but the Champions League money is much more important to the club.

On Saturday, Benítez’s priorities were wrong. His team didn’t play well, and he made poor choices while trying to get a response. As a result, Chelsea are only two points ahead of Arsenal, and they’re worse off today than they’ve been at any other point of the season.

Premier League Team of the Week — Round 36

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 30: Karl Darlow of Newcastle United is congratulated by Jamaal Lascelles of Newcastle United after saving a penalty during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James' Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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It’s incredible that Karl Darlow is Newcastle United’s starting goalkeeper, let alone a member of the PL Team of the Week.

The 25-year-old Northampton-born backstop is the Magpies’ third-choice keeper, having arrived from Nottingham Forest last summer to learn under Tim Krul and Rob Elliot.

[ VIDEO: Leicester fans react to title ]

But injuries to both of his international superiors thrust Darlow into the spotlight, and it took him some time to acclimate to the Premier League.

He looked just fine in Newcastle’s potentially massive 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, stopping a penalty amongst several other stops as the Magpies moved out of the drop zone for the first time since February.

Premier League Team of the Week — Week 36

Goalkeeper: Karl Darlow (Newcastle United)

Defenders: Wes Morgan (Leicester City), Leighton Baines (Everton), Winston Reid (West Ham United)

Midfielders: Mark Noble (West Ham United), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham United), Dusan Tadic (Southampton), Andros Townsend (Newcastle United)

Forwards: Troy Deeney (Watford), Sadio Mane (Southampton), Andre Ayew (Swansea City)

VIDEO: Claudio Ranieri’s best moments, quotes this season

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14:  Claudio Ranieri the manager of Leicester City reacts as Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Chelsea at the King Power Stadium on December14, 2015 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Claudio Ranieri is everyone’s favorite manager.

And not just because “Dilly-ding, dilly-dong” will be added to the English dictionary very soon.

The Italian boss, 64, has guided Leicester City to the 2015-16 Premier League title — the first top-flight trophy in their 132-year history — in just his first season in charge at the King Power Stadium.

[ VIDEO: Leicester players celebrate ]

He has guided the 5000-1 shots at the start of the season to an incredible title win. At the start of the campaign he was the favorite to be the first manager to be fired this season.

After spending four years at Chelsea from 2000-04 where he was ruthlessly sacked by Russian owner Roman Abramovich who didn’t believe he could win trophies, Ranieri has won the biggest one of them all in his first season back in England.  Remarkable.

[ MORE: Latest Leicester news after PL win ]  

The veteran boss has now won his first-ever league title in his long and distinguished managerial career against all the odds. He is, without doubt, the mastermind behind Leicester’s remarkable title win. There are calls for Ranieri to be knighted by the Queen of England and given what his team has achieved, why not?

Despite his obviously skill as a manager, he is also a genuinely nice bloke when it comes to interacting with fans and the media.

The video below looks at some of the most memorable moments this season from the lovable Italian.

Bellissimo.

Premier League Player of the Week — Round 36 (video)

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When Joe Hart looks to his left, he might expect to see a Sadio Mane shot going past him.

That’s how lethal the Southampton attacker was this weekend, recording a hat trick in Saints’ 4-2 win over Manchester City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Mane becomes the third Southampton player to snare Premier League Player of the Week honors this season, joining Graziano Pelle and Fraser Forster.

Just two more honors to go this PL season.

Premier League Players of the Week – Round 36

Week 1: Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City

Week 2: Romelu Lukaku, Everton

Week 3: Callum Wilson, Bournemouth

Week 4: Bafetimbi Gomis, Swansea City

Week 5: Steven Naismith, Everton

Week 6: Anthony Martial, Manchester United

Week 7: Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal

Week 8: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

Week 9: Raheem Sterling, Manchester City

Week 10: Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur

Week 11: Arouna Kone, Everton

Week 12: Jesse Lingard, Manchester United

Week 15: Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City

Week 16: Ayoze Perez, Newcastle United

Week 17: Odion Ighalo, Watford

Week 19: Xherdan Shaqiri, Stoke City

Week 20: Jermain Defoe, Sunderland

Week 21: Jermain Defoe, Sunderland

Week 22: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

Week 23: Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur

Week 24: Fraser Forster, Southampton

Week 25: Gabriel Agbonlahor, Aston Villa

Week 26: Pedro, Chelsea

Week 27: Marcus Rashford, Manchester United

Week 28: Connor Wickham, Crystal Palace

Week 29: Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City

Week 30: Graziano Pelle, Southampton

Week 31: Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur

Week 32: Alex Iwobi, Arsenal

Week 33: Andy Carroll, West Ham United

Week 34: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

Week 35: Eden Hazard, Chelsea

Week 36: Sadio Mane, Southampton

Pellegrini defends fielding “B” team in loss at Southampton

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MAY 01:  Kelechi Iheanacho (72), Samir Nasri (C) and Wilfred Bony of Manchester City (R) looks despondent as Sadio Mane of Southampton scores their fourth goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester City at St Mary's Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini does not regret fielding a weakened side at Southampton over the weekend as he prepares for City’s Champions League semifinal at Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Pellegrini chose to rest many of his top players at St. Mary’s, including Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, and Vincent Kompany. City were smashed 4-2 in one of their worst performances of the season.

[ RECAP: Saints 4-2 Man City ]

Pellegrini defended his lineup decisions after the match, saying he is willing to risk results in the Premier League to reach the Champions League final.

We knew before the game it was a risk to put so many players without football against a difficult team but we have to take those risks. If we had played on Saturday we could put more players out. I was disappointed with the team. It’s my responsibility for the starting 11.

I would do exactly the same again because we have an important game.

We play for the final in the Champions League. We continue in the Premier League what we are going to do in the next two games to be in the top four so that was a risk but one we had to take.

While you would expect a drop-off when the likes of Aguero and de Bruyne are not on the pitch, City’s poor performance was much more than just a team selection issue. With Raheem Sterling ($75 million) and Wilfried Bony ($45 million) in the starting XI, it was 19-year-old academy product Kelechi Iheanacho who was one of the few players to show any type of effort against Saints.

Pellegrini may be overlooking the end of the Premier League season, but his side still needs points to secure a top-four spot and berth in the Champions League next year. City currently sit four points ahead of Manchester United, but United have a game in-hand.

[ MORE: Burnley become first Championship side to clinch PL promotion ]

City travel to Spain for the second leg of their Champions League semifinal matchup against Real Madrid on Wednesday. After settling for a 0-0 draw in the first leg, City must put the Southampton debacle behind them and turn things around before the one of the biggest matches in club history.