Chelsea 4 Southampton 2: Diego Costa stars to put title pressure on Tottenham

Vaishali Bhardwaj
REUTERS

A Diego Costa-inspired Chelsea heaped the pressure on Premier League title chasers Tottenham by beating Southampton 4-2 at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night to temporarily go seven points clear of their London rivals.

Eden Hazard picked up where he left off following his goal at Wembley by scoring again after Diego Costa cut the ball back into the Belgian's path in the fifth minute.

Hazard's subsequent low drive handed the Blues an early lead but Southampton responded with a goal of their own in the 24th minute when ex-Chelsea midfielder Oriol Romeu tapped in from close range.

Despite the Saints' dominance thereafter, Chelsea re-took the lead through stand-in captain Gary Cahill whose bullet header seconds before the break gave Chelsea the confidence they needed to go on and secure the win.

They did this in some style when Hazard and Cesc Fabregas combined to set up Costa, who headed into the back of the net in the 53rd minute to secure his 50th Premier League goal before he added a second late on before Ryan Bertrand netted a consolation effort to seal a 4-2 win that hands Chelsea a seven-point cushion over Spurs.

The north Londoners, eliminated from the FA Cup by Chelsea on Saturday, will now be under pressure to win away to Crystal Palace on Wednesday night as they attempt to close the gap at the top of the table back down to four points.

The performance on Tuesday by Conte's side was in stark contrast to how they played in their last league game last Sunday when the Blues lost 2-0 to Manchester United at Old Trafford.

(REUTERS)

But after Conte made a host of changes for the club's FA Cup semi-final clash with Tottenham six days later, the Chelsea team showed the perfect reaction by beating London rivals Tottenham 4-2 at Wembley.

Conte insisted after the game that his players were fresh for the visit of Southampton, despite the Blues having just three days of rest compared to the visitors - who last played 10 days ago at home to Manchester City, a game they lost 3-0.

And, at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night, they certainly showed it.

Conte brought back Hazard, Costa and Cahill into his starting line-up for the match against Southampton with the latter recovering from a bout of gastroenteritis to make the starting XI.

(EPA)

The bigger surprise, however, was the inclusion of Fabregas on the right wing in place of Pedro and, indeed, Willian who scored twice against Spurs at Wembley.

But Conte's changes proved inspired, as indeed they did against Tottenham at Wembley, as Fabregas' long-range pass in the fifth minute found Costa who cut the ball back for Hazard and allowed the unmarked winger to drive in a low shot to hand the Blues the lead.

(REUTERS)

The link-up play between Chelsea's forwards was superb and continued to be so as Fabregas' cross in from deep 13 minutes later found Hazard, who contrived to fire over the bar despite having space and time to pick out his shot.

Southampton found their rhythm quickly, though, and when they won a corner in the 24th minute, it proved just the opportunity Claude Puel's side needed to get back into the game.

Cesar Azpilicueta inadvertently flicked the set piece onto the far post where Manolo Gabbiadini was waiting, and the 25-year-old's subsequent effort hit Thibaut Courtois and fell to former Chelsea man Romeu, who tapped in from close range to level the scores.

(REUTERS)

Conte had warned before the game of Gabbiadini's threat, and indeed it was key in the build-up to the equaliser. The Saints reacted by pushing men forward but they couldn't make their dominance count - with Chelsea having David Luiz and Courtois to thank for that.

The leaders reacted by upping the tempo and they could have re-taken the lead when Kante, who only won the PFA Player of the Year award on Sunday, went on a superb solo run and forced the Saints defence to somehow clear his effort that had been heading into the goal.

A frantic couple of minutes then ensued which saw Costa denied a penalty following contact from Steven Davis in the area but, after Southampton fired into the side netting down the other end of the pitch, the Blues got the breakthrough they were searching for.

It came from Fabregas' corner, which bounced off Costa - who in the process appealed for a penalty after going down but didn't get one - before the ball was kept alive by Kante.

(EPA)

Standing at the edge of the box, the midfielder crossed to Marcos Alonso, who headed the ball back into the area for Cahill, who superbly delivered a header of his own to make it 2-1 to Chelsea at the break.

Conte's side resumed where they left off after the re-start and when Hazard weaved in and out of the Saints' back line to pass to Fabregas, the Spaniard went on to set up his 103rd Premier League goal with his cross that found Costa, who headed in to hand Chelsea a 3-1 lead.

(PA)

It was the striker's first Premier League goal since 6 March - when he netted against West Ham - and was also his long-awaited 50th in the top flight strike since moving from Atletico Madrid three years ago.

And after Kante came close to getting his name on the scoresheet with his drive that Fraser Forster saved, Costa added gloss to the win by combining with Hazard to drive in a low effort before Bertrand netted a consolation effort against his former side with a header in added time.

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