Chelsea performed a masterclass in defensive solidity and counter-attacking play to halt Southampton’s rich rein of recent form with a 2-0 win at St Mary’s.
The Saints have won their last five home games in league and cup, conceding only once, but Hazard had other ideas with a goal inside 6 minutes, before Costa rounded things off in the second half.
It is a win which will mean a significant amount to Antonio Conte, whose side have gone nearly 7 hours without conceding in the league, and moves the Blues to one point from the top of the table with 22 points from 10 games, a staggering doubling of the number of points they had picked up by this time last season.
It was another fast first-half start for the Blues. Hazard was first out of the block and his right-wing cross, which nearly found Costa, should have set Southampton alarm bells ringing, but they did not heed the warning when the Belgian took matters into his own hands.
The 25-year-old lost his marker and, so often on the left-wing cutting back on his right, this time was found on the right-wing cutting back on his left. The end result was just as potent as his shot went through Forster’s legs to break the deadlock for the Blues.
The early start ignited Chelsea in spectacular fashion as they ran out 4-0 winners against Manchester United last week, but Southampton were no walk-over.
Tadic was causing problems for Alonso down the Chelsea left but any real attempt at Courtois’ goal came from long-range drives from the likes of Romeu.
The pressure kept coming from the hosts, who have not lost at St Mary’s in a league game in 2016 apart from the February defeat to Chelsea, from all areas, with Tadic’s free-kicks and corners proving to be a great source of creating chances.
Hazard had a great chance to counter but was wayward in his pass to find the completely unmarked Pedro, and by the time Moses picked up the stray ball, the Southampton defence had re-grouped.
It should have been two for Hazard and Chelsea when, back on his left-wing, he cut inside and, using the run of Costa, got his shot away very much in the same style as his goal last week against Manchester United, but the shot was from too far out and too close to Forster to cause significant concern.
A greater chance to double the visitor’s lead came from Costa after great work by Matic dispossessing Southampton in the middle of the park. The Spaniard was racing in one-on-one, but opted for power than precision and Forster’s legs saved his side from a worse scoreline.
The Blues went into the break having just had 38% possession in the first half but the scoreline was the key statistic, something which they looked to build on going into the second 45.
Alonso fizzed in a delicious ball on the rare occasion he had to attack, and it would have been a certain tap-in from Hazard had Jose Fonte not stuck out critical leg.
It was two on 55 minutes though. Southampton set up rigidly for a Luiz free-kick but Hazard and Costa pulled out wide. The short free-kick to Hazard confused the Southampton wall and the Belgian laid it off to Costa, who two touches later curled the ball into the back of Forster’s net. It was an excellent 25 yard strike, not something Costa is known for, but a great goal none-the-less.
Costa again went close, this time from a near-post poach, from Hazard cross but was well defended, but it definitely should have been three moments later. Hazard countered and found Moses out wide, whose shot stung the hands of Forster into the path of Costa. The Spaniard was unselfish and laid off to Pedro but the Blues desire to walk the ball in the net was not rewarded as Southampton got back agonisingly.
Austin towered over Azpilicueta, as too did Davis over Luiz, to remind Chelsea to be aware of their defensive responsibilities, but it was chance after chance for the London side, with Hazard next going close from 15 yards, and Moses thundering one on Forster’s goal.
Austin then had the ball in the net from an offside position, but still it was poor work from Luiz and Courtois and Conte, with five minutes to go, brought on Ivanovic to shore things up for what was a very convincing win.
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Man of the Match
EDEN HAZARD: There were many excellent performances today, especially from the defence, but the best you can hope for if you just defend is a draw, and so it requires the creative spark of a player to ignite a game to life, and what better a player to do that than Eden Hazard. Drove the Southampton right-back, centre-backs and defensive midfield mad by popping up everywhere and grabbing the early goal and the killer assist. 8/10
Conte was delighted: “I’m very happy after this performance. I saw great commitment, work rate – with the ball and without it. For the fourth game we keep a clean sheet. It’s fantastic. Also we scored two goals and created many chances. We are working very hard. We have to work very hard to continue. We can improve a lot. Our fans were fantastic from the first minute until the end. I want to thank them – we won this game together, the players and the supporters.”
Puel acknowledged the gulf in quality: “It’s difficult to play against this team when you concede a goal after a few minutes. They can play their game with a strong defence and counter-attack.”