Hazard, Costa put Blues a step closer to Eden

Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard (left) celebrates his fifth-minute opener against Southampton with Diego Costa. The Spain striker provided the assist before scoring two goals of his own at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard (left) celebrates his fifth-minute opener against Southampton with Diego Costa. The Spain striker provided the assist before scoring two goals of his own at Stamford Bridge.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said his side had taken "a big psychological step" after they defeated Southampton 4-2 to provisionally move seven points clear at the Premier League summit.

The London football club's recent 2-0 loss at Manchester United allowed closest rivals Tottenham Hotspur to trim their advantage to four points.

But the Blues, who need four wins from their final five matches to be sure of becoming champions, beat Tottenham 4-2 in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday before overcoming Southampton by the same scoreline on Tuesday to turn up the heat on Spurs, who visited Crystal Palace this morning (Singapore time).

"I think we passed a big, big step," Conte said at Stamford Bridge. "A big psychological step after the defeat against United. Because against United we lost three points and then you had to prepare (for) a semi-final against Tottenham.

"We reached the final in the FA Cup, which is a great incentive for us. But the other competition, the league, is totally open.

MENTALLY STRONG

I think we passed a big, big step. A big psychological step after the defeat against United.

ANTONIO CONTE, Chelsea manager, is pleased with his team's response to their recent Premier League defeat against Manchester United. They beat Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-finals before returning to winning ways in the league.

"But I think we are ready to fight until the end. Then we must be proud for our job, for what we are doing this season."

Diego Costa was Chelsea's match-winner, scoring twice in the second half to take his Premier League tally to 51 goals in 85 appearances. His brace also ended a seven-game scoring drought.

"It's normal for the strikers that it is important to score. The goals are their life," said Conte, whose side visit sixth-place Everton on Sunday.

"But, for me, I've always said I've been pleased with his commitment, his work for the team. He always worked for the team.

"After the Tottenham game, I said I'm sure he's keeping his goals for the final weeks of the season. Now he must continue."

Chelsea's other goals came from Eden Hazard and captain Gary Cahill, while former Chelsea players Oriel Romeu and Ryan Bertrand netted for the visitors.

Southampton were beaten 3-0 by Manchester City in their previous game and have failed to record a league victory over any of the teams in the top six this season.

But manager Claude Puel, whose side remain on 40 points, drew encouragement from the moments of discomfort they caused Chelsea.

"It was a better performance than against Manchester City," said the Frenchman, whose team lost to Manchester United in the League Cup final earlier this year.

"But we conceded the goals in bad moments - after five minutes, just before half-time, just after half-time. This made the difference."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2017, with the headline 'Hazard, Costa put Blues a step closer to Eden'. Print Edition | Subscribe