Half-ton Diego Costa ends drought to give Chelsea breathing room
Striker ends seven-game barren run in style to help Chelsea open up a seven-point lead in the Premier League with a 4-2 victory over Southampton
Diego Costa scored his 50th and 51st Premier League goals as Chelsea overcame spirited Southampton 4-2 on Tuesday to establish a seven-point lead at the top of the table.
Costa set up Eden Hazard’s early opener, which was cancelled out by Oriol Romeu, before Gary Cahill restored the hosts’ lead at an unseasonably cold Stamford Bridge.
Costa sealed victory with a second-half brace, ending a seven-game goal drought and heaping the pressure on second-place Tottenham Hotspur, who visit in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
“For the forward it’s very important to score ... because the goal is your life,” said Chelsea manager Antonio Conte.
“But I always said I’m very pleased for his commitment, for his work for the team, because he’s always working for the team.
“I have to be pleased with the effort of my players. It wasn’t easy after a tough game against Tottenham.
“We must be confident for the future. It’s important to look at ourselves and not the other (Spurs),” Conte said.
Having beaten Spurs in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday, Chelsea’s latest win reaffirmed the status of Conte’s side as England’s team to beat.
“We passed a big step, a big psychological step, after the defeat against United,” Conte said. “Our answer was very good and for this reason I must be pleased.”
They face a thorny trip to Everton this weekend and have now gone 11 league games without a clean sheet – their longest run since 1996 – but the finishing line is just five games away.
“When you keep a clean sheet, it’s a great achievement for your team,” Conte said. “I think this situation we have to improve. We have to continue to work and try to improve our mistakes.”
The west London club seemed so relaxed about their advantage at 4-1 that captain John Terry had been brought on for his first league appearance since November and first since announcing he would be leaving at the end of the season.
It’s likely that one of Terry’s last acts of a 22-year association with Chelsea will be to lift the Premier League trophy. There could also be an FA Cup to collect if Arsenal can be overcome in the final.
“My choices were right for the game against Tottenham and the game against Southampton,” Conte said. “It’s not easy to make these strong choices. I have squad full of great men and good players.”
Southampton manager Claude Puel said: “We played a good team, but it’s a harsh result. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa made the difference.”
Saints added a stoppage-time consolation through another Bridge old boy, Ryan Bertrand.
Additional reporting Associated Press