Chelsea beat Southampton to regain control of title race
Two goals from Diego Costa guide the Blues past Saints and open up a seven-point gap over chasing Spurs
Chelsea 4 Southampton 2
Chelsea took control of the title race on Tuesday evening with a comfortable win over Southampton. The victory restores their seven-point advantage over Tottenham who travel to Crystal Palace this evening knowing that anything other than three points will be a serious setback in their pursuit of their London rivals.
"We've put pressure on Spurs," said Eden Hazard, who scored the first of Chelsea's goals after just five minutes. Oriol Romeu levelled for the Saints midway through the first half but a Gary Cahill header restored the Blues advantage on the stroke of half-time and Diego Costa scored twice after the interval to wrap up the victory, a result that not even a stoppage time goal from Ryan Bertrand could tarnish.
"It does feel like a massive step," said Cahill. "It's the first time for a long time we've played first [before Tottenham in the league] and this result leaves us in a good position."
Spurs visit Palace on the back of a seven match Premier League winning streak, but their comprehensive defeat to Chelsea in Saturday's FA Cup semi-final (their first loss in any competition since a Europa League defeat to Genk in mid-February) will be a test of their character against an Eagles side that are also enjoying a spell of good form in the league, having lost just once in their last eight matches, and claimed the notable scalps of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Chelsea's 2-1 loss at home to Palace was followed a fortnight later by their defeat to Manchester United, two results that reopened the title race and led some to wonder whether the Blues were feeling the pressure. But the manner in which they dispatched Tottenham on Saturday, and now Southampton, suggests that Antonio Conte has steadied the ship.
"We passed a big step - a big psychological step - after the defeat against Manchester United," said the Italian. "We lost three points, then we had to prepare a semi-final against Tottenham, then another tough game here. Mentally we have had a really important test. Our answer was very good. We must be pleased."
And Conte was particularly pleased for Costa who, prior to the Southampton match, had gone seven games without a goal. "It's normal for the strikers that it is important to score, the goals are their life," said Conte of the Spanish striker whose brace against the Saints took him to 50 Premier League goals. "But I've always said I've been pleased with his commitment. He has always worked for the team... now he must continue. He's very important for us, his confidence is very important for us."