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Three points and three milestones as Chelsea take one step closer to the Premier League title

Chelsea v Southampton - Premier League
What’s eating Asmir Begović?
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Chelsea’s magic number — a combination of points won by Chelsea and dropped by Spurs — is down to just 12 after the 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge over a spirited Southampton side on Tuesday night. Goals from Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill, and twice from Diego Costa were enough to comfortably see off the visitors, who fortunately only had two former Chelsea players in their squad. Both Oriol Romeu and Ryan Bertrand scored for Saints, as apparently only current or former Chelsea players were allowed to do so in this game.

After the exertions and emotions of Saturday, it was no surprise that the three substitutes from that match got the ball rolling for Chelsea, with Fàbregas, Costa, and Hazard combining with patience and precision to find the gaps in Southampton’s defense in the fifth minute. After running onto a perfect Fàbregas ball down the channel, Costa managed to pick out Hazard despite facing odds of 2-v-6 inside the box. Hazard, whose “unselfish” tendencies reared their frustrating heads only later, made no mistake in this case with a confident finish into the far corner. It was his 15th league goal of the season, a new career high in the Premier League.

But, as has been the case far too often lately, Chelsea’s early goal seemed to only galvanize the opposition, who posed a constant threat through Manolo Gabbiadini (despite Conte’s warnings to pay great attention to him) and set pieces. Hey, that last bit sounds familiar! Chelsea seemingly had no idea how to deal with James Ward-Prowse’s corner deliveries, and it’s probably just sheer luck that we conceded only the one goal from them — Oriol Romeu tapping home after Courtois could only parry and entirely unmarked Gabbiadini’s shot.

Momentum firmly on their side, Southampton pressed forward. Chelsea bent, cracked, but did not break and eventually regained somewhat of a foothold. It wasn’t much, but it was just enough to exploit similarly shambolic set piece defending from the visitors. A recycled ball was pumped back into the mixer by Kanté, Alonso won the header, and Cahill risked life and limb to jump in ahead of Costa’s attempted bicycle kick and head the ball in with the final touch of the first-half. A most perfect time to score a goal, Cahill’s seventh of the season in all competitions, tying his career high. A week prior he had been lying in hospital, getting fluids pumped into him to deal with gastroenteritis. England’s Brave Gary Cahill, indeed.

The goal and the half-time talk seemed to do wonders for the Blues, who came out with purpose and intent and concentration to put the game to bed in just eight minutes. It was a goal from yet another set piece, this time a corner played short to Hazard, who then found to Fàbregas, who curled a perfect ball into the six-yard box where Costa beat his marker and headed (!) in with a simple finish. It was Costa’s 50th Premier League goal, in just 85 appearances, a feat that registered not just in the Chelsea history books, but in the league’s as well—in both cases, Costa was the 8th fastest to accomplish this feat.

Meanwhile, the provider of the pass, Cesc Fàbregas, moved into sole possession of second place in the all-time Premier League assists chart.

The clocked showed 53 minutes, and even with Chelsea’s leaky defense, the tie was basically over. Southampton’s will to fight drained away and Chelsea were content to sit back and waste chance after chance on the counter as we like to do. With each miss, the visitors re-gathered a bit of impetus, forcing Conte into a couple defensive changes, including swapping Pedro for Fàbregas, who had started as the de facto right inside forward (but without all the pressing and direct running we’ve come to expect from that position) and giving John Terry a runout in the league for the first time since November to add more height and strength and set piece help into the backline.

It turned out Chelsea were just saving up for one of the best moves of the season, with Costa playing back-to-back one-twos with Hazard and then Pedro before blasting past Fraser Forster for his 20th of the season. Such goals are often lost to time if they are the fourth goal of a 4-1 scoreline, so let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. Special mention for Pedro’s little nonchalant heel-flick on the second one-two.

There was enough time left at that point for Ryan Bertrand to grab a consolation goal and ensure that Chelsea put in a few extra defensive training sessions this week. Still, a two-goal win, three points, and a (temporary) seven-point lead is no more than we could’ve asked for at the start of the day.

All eyes on Crystal Palace tomorrow (all aboard the out-tactic-ing Big Sam hype train!), before we move into the weekend, when Chelsea travel to Everton and Spurs host Arsenal in the North London Derby.

Five games left!

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