Conte's strategy succeeds

Chelsea's Diego Costa (foreground, with Victor Moses embracing him) celebrates scoring the second goal in their 2-0 victory over Southampton on Sunday.
Chelsea's Diego Costa (foreground, with Victor Moses embracing him) celebrates scoring the second goal in their 2-0 victory over Southampton on Sunday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Hazard, Costa symbolise Blues' resurgence as victory against Saints raises title expectations

LONDON • It was neither the most dramatic nor the most emphatic result you will see in the Premier League this season, but there was something impressive about the way Chelsea swept to a 2-0 victory over Southampton on Sunday.

It was a performance that bore all the hallmarks of Chelsea's golden era - physically strong, tactically astute, inventive and incisive in attack - but with a new twist courtesy of Antonio Conte.

This was Chelsea's fourth Premier League match since Conte switched to the 3-4-3 formation that served him so well in Italy - four games, four wins, 11 goals scored without reply.

The resurgence of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa was underlined by another goal apiece.

But, above all, this was a powerful collective performance, typified by the apparent transformations of Victor Moses into a rampaging wing-back and David Luiz, on this occasion at least, into the type of defender who thinks safety-first.

Suddenly, what appeared a strange line-up at first glance a month ago looks like a well-tuned system. Southampton were not at their best, but it takes a strong performance to dismantle them as comprehensively as Chelsea did.

To offer some kind of statistical context, whereas Southampton's previous nine league opponents had mustered just 19 shots on target between them, Chelsea racked up seven in 90 minutes, most of them through Hazard and Costa.

At the other end, Thibaut Courtois had only a single shot to save.

The no-nonsense display was impressive - Conte's team have now reeled off four successive league wins for the first time in 18 months and they sit just one point behind leaders Manchester City.

Chelsea have double the number of points - 22 - that they had at the same stage last season.

But Conte would not be drawn into declaring his side potential champions. "If you ask me a prediction about the championship, it is very difficult. It is important to pass the first part of the season, then after Christmas you see if you can fight for the title," the Italian said.

"If you ask me if I'm confident? Yeah, because we are working a lot and I'm seeing a lot of positive things. We are in a good position but the most important thing is to work very hard."

After disappointing losses to Arsenal and Liverpool raised pointed questions about Conte just weeks into his reign, Chelsea's revival has brought welcome encouragement to the former Italy coach.

"We played against a strong team who are in a good moment. To come here and win wasn't easy," he said. "I'm pleased with the work rate, with the ball and without the ball. This is the right way to reach great satisfaction in this championship. To stay close to first place gives us great confidence."

Southampton's first defeat in six league games stalled their impressive run and manager Claude Puel admitted Hazard, who played under the Frenchman at Lille, had been too hot to handle.

"Chelsea were able to play strong at the back and they could have space to counter-attack. With Eden and Costa it is hard to resist," he said.

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2016, with the headline 'Conte's strategy succeeds'. Print Edition | Subscribe