Five things we learned as Chelsea went seven clear with Diego Costa-inspired win over Southampton

Antonio Conte's side moved one step closer to the title with victory over Claude Puel's Saints

Mark Critchley
Tuesday 25 April 2017 21:33
Chelsea were comfortable in victory, despite letting in two sloppy goals
Chelsea were comfortable in victory, despite letting in two sloppy goals

Diego Costa ended his lean streak with a double as Premier League leaders Chelsea beat Southampton 4-2 to restore their seven-point advantage over Tottenham.

Cesc Fabregas, Costa and Eden Hazard were substitutes in last Saturday's FA Cup semi-final win over Spurs, largely because of the proximity of this fixture.

And all three were instrumental as Antonio Conte's side moved within 12 points of the title with five games remaining.

Here are five things we learned...

It's over, isn't it?

For 20 minutes or so, it looked like this title race was still on. We should have known better.

This win for Antonio Conte’s Chelsea did not confirm their status as champions, they need four more for that, but one comparison of their remaining fixtures with Tottenham’s suggests that their closest rivals are running out of room.

In the end, Southampton were comfortably seen off and it is hard to see Watford, West Bromwich Albion or Sunderland doing any better when they visit Stamford Bridge before the end of the campaign. Trips to Everton and West Bromwich Albion are tricky but not intimidating.

For Tottenham to have a realistic chance, they needed a favour here. It did not come.

Still no clean sheet

22 January, against second-bottom Hull City; the date and opponent on the day of Chelsea’s last league clean sheet. 93 days ago, to be precise.

For the last few months, Chelsea have not needed to keep it tight and it has shown, the chaos that led to Southampton’s equaliser here being a case in point.

It may be complacency or something more systemic but either way, it offers those in the chasing pack a little hope that next season will be different.

That long, solid run of wins swept the rug from underneath them this season and it is unlikely to be repeated. Chelsea have flaws, particularly in defence, and those flaws are yet to be fully exposed.

Kante not just a ‘destroyer’

N’Golo Kante and the word ‘destroyer’ have been mentioned many times in the past few days. After all, it is always a point of controversy when a ‘reactive’ rather than ‘proactive’ player to be named the best of the year.

Chelsea’s anchor man is more than that, though, and regularly shows an ability to knock down the opposition’s defences as well as their attacks.

His runs with the ball are an underrated facet of his game, and one deft little slalom through Southampton’s backline in the first half reminded us of that.

Romeu marks return with a goal

In the build-up to this meeting, and in the aftermath of Sunday’s PFA awards, Claude Puel suggested that his own midfield enforcer was “not far off” Kante.

Some scoffed at the remark, but Puel was ‘not far off’ himself. Oriol Romeu may have to settle for just Southampton’s players’ gong, but he deserves it, having begun to make good on the promise which he brought to Stamford Bridge.

His goal here may prove inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but it tops off an impressive campaign.

Caceres’ strange exile continues

A CV might get you the job, but it doesn’t necessarily get you respect. Martin Caceres has a La Liga title, four Serie A titles, a Copa America and Champions League runners-up medal, but still not a minute for Southampton.

The Uruguayan arrived as a free agent in February after eight months without a club, so he was hardly expected to slot right into the side. Yet time has passed, a new signing needs match fitness and the centre of Southampton’s defence remains a problem.

Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens’ partnership leaves something to be desired, Puel need only to look at how they struggled to track Diego Costa in the build-up to Chelsea’s first. Still though, Caceres remained on the sideline. He may yet go a whole season without stepping on the pitch.

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