Chelsea Go 7 Points Clear
Chelsea follow up their finals clinching victory over the weekend with another 4-2 victory over Southampton. Eden Hazard opened up the scoring within the first 5 minutes to set the early tempo.. Former Chelsea signing Oriol Romeu would equalize for the Saints during a chaotic corner. Gary Cahill would steady the home side nerves with a towering header right before half time. Diego Costa would earn a second half brace to seal maximum points. Ryan Bertrand would get a measure of small revenge against his former club as scores Southampton’s second goal deep into injury time.
After having dropped two of his biggest names during the weekend, Antonio Conte’s lineup featured some returning names, while rotating some of his warriors from the FA Cup fixture. Thibaut Courtois reprises his role as starting goal keeper with Gary Cahill returning to the heart of the defense along with David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta, relegating Nathan Ake to the bench. Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante will patrol the central midfield with Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses guarding the flanks. Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas are called up from the bench, replacing Willian, Pedro and Michy Batshuayi in the attack for a 3-4-3 formation.
Chelsea strike early in almost customary fashion. Two of the previous fixture’s benched stars look to prove their worth as both Diego Costa and Eden Hazard combine for the Blues’ early chance. Costa catches the Saints being sloppy with possession allowing him to make a run towards the penalty area. He is forced wide right but anticipated Hazard’s late run and cuts him a pass as he arrives in dangerous territory. The Belgian ace aims for the far post and easily gets the home side the advantage within minutes after kickoff.
Costa and Hazard combine again forcing the Saints to say their prayers. Costa exploits the hospitality accorded to him by the visiting squad by easily flicking on a forward pass, releasing Hazard into the penalty area. The swiftness of the offensive movement allowed Hazard to sneak behind the Southampton sandwich of Jack Stephens and Cedric Soares and pop in a looping attempt aimed at the far corner. Unfortunately for the Belgian talisman, his curling effort had too much height on it and failed to threaten Fraser Forster.
But the Blues get careless with a set piece and the Saints get a lifeline from the chaos. Cesar Azpilicueta looked set to deal with the corner through a header but he lacked the elevation to totally clear the ball at the near post but only managed to flick it on with the slightest of touches. It ends up in with Manolo Gabbiadini who seemed isolated at the far post with only the keeper to beat. Thibaut Courtois rushes in to make a block and successfully diverts the attempt. Divine intervention would salvage this play for Southampton as the ball only manages to roll as far as a few yards off the goal line where former Chelsea midfielder Oriol Romeu was there to tap it in against his former club.
Chelsea would calm their nerves as they finally got a needed breakthrough right before half time. Newly-awared PFA Player of the Year N’Golo Kante took charge of a free kick from deep which he guided to the vicinity of the far post. Marcos Alonso managed to win his aerial duel to head it back towards the middle of the penalty area where Diego Costa was setting up for an acrobatic attempt. But Gary Cahill had other things in mind and barged into the see of humanity and tower over a header which he guided past Forster.
The Blues have the Saints in disarray after displaying some flair from a short corner. Cesc Fabregas took the short option from the corner, passing it to Hazard before receiving it as he cut inside the penalty area. He flicks it over to the far post where Costa was tussled in with former Chelsea youngster Ryan Bertrand. But the Spanish striker was a much more imposing brute and got himself a header to give Chelsea further cushion in the match for his 50th Premier League goal.
Costa slices through the Southampton defense like butter to further pad their goal advantage. The striker had his run to the left impeded and proceeds to use Hazard in a one-two to allow him room as he cuts into the penalty area. Upon receiving the pass, uses Pedro as another pivot in his one-two as his run penetrated deeper into the box and he finally got an unimpeded angle to shoot. The move must have left the opposition in a catatonic state as the move glided through looking like the opposition was static, culminating in Forster failing to deal with a shot aimed as his near post, awarding Costa a brace and his 20th goal of the season.
Another Chelsea ex makes haunts the Blues. Soares floats in a nice cross deep in the right flank to a crowded penalty area. Bertrand out-positions Cahill and manages to head the ball towards the far post to add some more respectability to the score line.
Chelsea manage to extend their lead on top of the table to 7 points, pending the results of Tottenham’s fixture this midweek. This is the second straight 4-2 victory within the week, having beaten title rivals Tottenham with the same score line during the FA Cup semifinals. Chelsea will head to Goodison Park over the weekend to face Europe-chasing Everton this weekend.