London - 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.
"Today I have to be pleased with the effort of my players. It wasn't
easy after a tough game against Tottenham," said Chelsea manager Antonio
"We must be confident for the future. It's important to look at ourselves and not the other (Spurs)."
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
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.
Hazard, Costa and Cesc Fabregas returned to the Chelsea XI after
starting Saturday's 4-2 win over Tottenham on the bench and they
combined for the fifth-minute opener.
Fabregas's pass from halfway sent Costa scampering away down the
inside-right channel and his cut-back was swept into the bottom-left
corner by Hazard.
The Belgian forward has now scored 15 goals in a Premier League
season for the first time, his highest tally since netting 20 times for
Lille in 2011-12.
The trio were at it again shortly after, Costa deftly cushioning Fabregas's pass into the path of Hazard, who curled well wide.
But there had already been nervy moments in the hosts' penalty area - an unmarked Jack Stephens volleying tamely at Thibaut Courtois - and
before long Southampton were level.
James Ward-Prowse's corner
from the left was inadvertently flicked on by Cesar Azpilicueta and
reached the unattended Manolo Gabbiadini at the back post.
The Italian's cross-shot flicked off Courtois and was tapped in by
ex-Chelsea midfielder Romeu, who had last scored in January 2016.
Set-pieces continued to prove the home side's Achilles heel, with
Courtois obliged to swat away a dangerous Ward-Prowse free-kick before
Sofiane Boufal thrashed into the side-netting at a corner.
A storming run by N'Golo Kante forced Stephens into a desperate
headed clearance and Costa had a penalty appeal turned down, but Chelsea
were wavering until Cahill struck in first-half stoppage time.
Kante's deep cross was helped on by Marcos Alonso and with Costa
launching himself into a mid-air scissors kick, the England centre-back
charged in bravely to head home.
Costa would not be denied the next time he got a sight of goal in the
53rd minute as he brought up a half-century of league goals on his 85th
appearance since signing from Atletico Madrid in 2014.
After a short corner with Hazard, Fabregas lofted a cross to the far
post and Costa held off Bertrand to plant a header past Fraser Forster.
Dusan Tadic worked Courtois with a skidding effort and Gabbiadini hit
the side-netting after again being left unmarked at a corner, moving
Conte to angrily kick a bag beside the dug-out.
Chelsea club captain John Terry came on for the final five minutes
and was afforded a standing ovation in his first appearance since
announcing he will leave the club at the end of the season.
Costa made it 4-1 with a delightful goal in the 89th minute, swapping
passes with first Hazard and then substitute Pedro before drilling a
low shot past Forster.
"We played a good team, but it's a harsh result," said Southampton
manager Claude Puel, whose side added a stoppage-time consolation
through another Bridge old boy, Ryan Bertrand.
"Eden Hazard and Diego Costa made the difference today."