CHELSEA took a giant leap towards winning the Premier League as they moved seven points clear at the top with a 4-2 triumph over Southampton.
Eden Hazard’s early strike set them on their way before Gary Cahill and Diego Costa struck to secure the victory after Oriol Romeu had equalised during the first half.
The Blues have now piled the pressure on second-placed Tottenham, who travel to Crystal Palace on Wednesday knowing nothing less than a win will do to keep their faint title hopes alive.
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Not that it was all a stroll in the park for Chelsea against the Saints, despite drawing first blood after only five minutes.
Cesc Fabresgas played in Costa down the right, and the forward pulled it back for Hazard to sweep the ball home.
That was his 15th league goal of the campaign, the Belgian’s best return since joining the club.
But any hopes of a stroll in the park were quickly erased when Stamford Bridge old boy Romeu popped up four yards out following a scramble from a corner to net for the first time in over a year.
Now with their tails up, Southampton began to enjoy a good spell of pressure, but their good work came undone on the stroke of half time.
A cross was flicked on by Marcos Alonso, and as Costa flung himself into a bicycle kick, Cahill darted in front of his acrobatics to head home.
However, Costa did manage to get himself on the scoresheet shortly after the restart to effectively end the contest and his barren run of eight matches without a goal.
Hazard fed Fabregas out wide, and the Spaniard’s cross was nodded in by the striker for his 50th goal in the English top-flight.
And it got better for the frontman in the dying stages as he added his second and his side’s fourth in spectacular fashion.
He linked up perfectly with first Hazard and then Pedro as he danced through the Saints defence before lashing the ball past Fraser Forster.
Ryan Bertrand then got his goal against his old side with a header in injury time, but it was too little, too late for the visitors.
FACTS, STATS, GOALS & LOLS
- GARY CAHILL was back on a pitch in a Chelsea shirt and without a loo roll under his arm after a severe bout of gastroenteritis.
- CLAUDE PUEL sprang a surprise by dropping Nathan Redmond to the bench with record signing Sofiane Boufal taking his place.
- CHELSEA unveiled another gimmicky flag in The Shed End before kick-off – six vertical banners stating: Keep The Blue Flag Flying High. Obviously manufactured by the club and the only thing home produced in the Chelsea team.
- EDEN HAZARD gave Chelsea the perfect start with a goal after five minutes following great hold up play by Diego Costa.
- Typical that Chelsea old boy Oriel Romeu who failed to score for his former team then equalised for Saints in the 24th minute.
- Skipper Cahill leaps into the air in first half injury time to head Chelsea back in front as most Blues fans’ stomachs were churning.
- Diego Costa finally got his day job back and started scoring goals again – his first for Chelsea since March 6 – with number three to seal victory.
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas sets up Diego Costa for a return to form brace vs Southampton
- Player of the Year N’Golo Kante picked up his tenth booking of the season for a foul on James Ward-Prowse but will not be banned because a cut-off date of the second Sunday in April has passed. Lucky for them.
- ANTONIO CONTE puts the boot into a kit bag in the 70th minute when he mistakenly thinks Southampton have scored – losing his rag momentarily and aiming an angry left footed kick when he saw the net ripple.
- CESC FABREGAS gets a standing ovation from the Chelsea backroom staff when he is replaced by Pedro in the 76th minute.
Sun Apr 30 – Everton (A) – PL
Mon May 8 – Middlesbrough (H) – PL
Fri May 12 – WBA (A) – PL
Mon May 15 – Watford (H) – PL
Sun May 21 – Sunderland (H) – PL
Sat Apr 29 – Hull (H) – PL
Sun May 7 – Liverpool (A) – PL
Wed May 10 – Arsenal (H) – PL
Sat May 13 – Middlesbrough (A) – PL
Wed May 17 – Man United (H) – PL
DREAM TEAM RATINGS
Chelsea: Courtois 6, Azpilicueta 6, David Luiz 7, Cahill 7, Moses 7 (Terry 86, 5), Kante 7, Matic 6, Alonso 7, Fabregas 7 (Pedro 77, 6), Hazard 8 (Willian 90, 5), Diego Costa 9
Subs not used: Begovic, Ake, Batshuayi, Chalobah
Southampton: Forster 6, Soares 6, Stephens 5, Yoshida 6, Bertrand 7, Davis 5, Romeu 7, Ward-Prowse (Long 82, 6), Tadic 5, Gabbiadini 6 (Rodriguez 86, 5), Boufal 6 (Redmond 68, 6)
Subs not used: Clasie, Caceres, Hojbjerg, Hassen
DREAM TEAM STAR MAN: Diego Costa
WHAT THEY SAID
Chelsea’s Gary Cahill on Sky Sports: “It does feel like a massive step. First time for a long time we’ve played first [before Tottenham in the league].
“Marcos Alonso popped a nice ball across and it’s great for a defender. It was a great timing [the second goal] and a big boost before half-time. Most important thing is that we get the win.”
Southampton boss Claude Puel to BBC Sport: “It was a good game. We had a lot of opportunities but we conceded two goals on free-kicks. It’s a shame.
“We played against a good team. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa made the difference today.
“I had the privilege to start Hazard at Lille. He has the same quality. He’s a fantastic player. At 16, he was the same.
“It was a good game to watch on the TV. It’s a harsh result. It’s important to finish with good performances and stay in the first part of the table.”