It was a pleasingly familiar tale for the Blues on our Sunday afternoon visit to the South Coast as we recorded a fourth straight league win without conceding a goal since the change in team shape at the start of the month.
In its way, this well-deserved victory that came courtesy of an early Eden Hazard goal and an outstanding Diego Costa strike in the second half, matched the home wins over champions Leicester and Manchester United given Southampton’s strong home record. They had not been beaten at St Mary’s in the previous 11 games. Chelsea’s win here last February had preceded that run.
Following the four goal-mauling of Man United in this slot last weekend, it was no surprise to see Antonio Conte leave his selection unchanged for our final game of October, especially as he had rested a few legs at West Ham in the midweek cup outing.
Pedro, following such an early impact on that game a week ago, took only marginally longer to make his presence felt today when his run and pass found Eden Hazard inside the Saints penalty area but although the Belgian slammed on the breaks and centred the ball, Diego Costa at the near post was not allowed a chance to shoot. It was a good start from the visitors.
Nemanja Matic was called upon to block a shot from Dusan Tadic and our former midfielder Oriol Romeu hooked over from range as the home side had their initial go at goal, but with just five minutes on the clock they went behind.
Goalscorer Hazard was involved earlier in the move. He then took a return pass from Victor Moses on the right and sold the Southampton defence the same dummy they fell for on his earlier attack, but he this time went for goal rather than a pass and a great choice it was too. The ball flew through Fraser Forster’s legs and into the net for Hazard’s fifth Premier League goal already this season, and one that kept his team’s momentum turned up high.
Southampton spent the following minutes playing safe in an attempt to steady ship but our forward play was looking lively enough to suggest the next chance was not too far away. It didn’t come and by the midway point in the half the Saints were gaining the initiative.
Marcos Alonso gave away a free-kick on Tadic which the Serbian took and drew a save low down in the bottom corner from Thibaut Courtois. That would prove to be the home side's one shot on target.
Gary Cahill and Alonso won aerial contests which were the platform for a Blues counter-attack. Hazard’s crossfield pass was meant for Pedro but instead found Moses whose shot was deflected off-target.
No goal but it did herald a spell of more Chelsea possession and greater control. Hazard, this time from a position on the left, drifted inside and had a good effort saved.
Diego Costa had not been greatly involved up to this stage but he was the next to be denied by the now busy Forster after Matic, impressive throughout, won the ball forcefully. Our striker’s shot was saved by the keeper’s foot so the teams went in at half-time with the Londoners one goal ahead.
It was Conte’s side who started the second half with the greater impetus too, and Fonte was not far away from turning a dangerous Alonso cross past his own keeper as he defended it facing goal.
Alonso on the run then shot several yards wide after an impressive turn and surge down the middle of the pitch from Diego Costa. Our striker would do even better a couple of minutes later.
In his two and a bit seasons in the Premier League, the 28-year-old has built his goalscoring reputation mostly on being a penalty-area predator but his 56th-minute strike that doubled our lead was worthy of any long-range specialist. He received the ball outside the area towards the left, worked it inside a yard or so and then gave Forster no chance with a rocket into the far side of the net.
The exuberant celebration was worthy of the strike. Diego Costa was back above Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku as the Premier League’s topscorer. This was goal no.8.
This afternoon’s two goalscorers nearly combined for another shortly after and then Pedro had the chance to make the Saints pay after Forster failed to hold onto a Moses shot, but delayed shooting too long.
The home side had a good chance to halve the deficit with a quarter of the game to go but Charlie Austin headed over. Later in the game, Steven Davis challenged David Luiz in the air and the ball looped onto the top of the Chelsea crossbar.
Moses tested Forster with a stinging effort shortly before Austin had the ball in the net at the other end, only to see the flag raised for offside. The clean sheet did not come under threat again.
With these three points we retain our fourth place at the top of a very tight league table.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses (Ivanovic 87) Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro (Willian 78), Diego Costa (Batshuayi 88), Hazard.
Unused subs Begovic, Terry , Chalobah, Oscar.
Scorers Hazard 6, Diego Costa 55
Southampton (4-3-3): Forster; Martina, Fonte (c), Van Dijk, Bertrand (McQueen 78); Clasie (Boufal 61) Romeu, Davis; Redmond, Tadic (Hojbjerg 78), Austin.
Unused subs Taylor, Yoshida, Ward-Prowse, Olomola.
Referee Mike Jones