Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said his side had taken “a big psychological step” after they defeated Southampton 4-2 to move seven points clear at the top of the Premier League.
Chelsea’s 2-0 loss to Manchester United allowed closest rivals Tottenham Hotspur to trim their advantage to four points.
However, they beat Tottenham 4-2 in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday before overcoming Southampton by the same scoreline on Tuesday to turn up the heat on Tottenham, who were to play Crystal Palace yesterday.
“I think we passed a big, big step,” Conte told reporters at Stamford Bridge. “A big psychological step after the defeat against United. Because against United we lost three points and then you had to prepare [for] a semi-final against Tottenham.”
“We reached the final in the FA Cup, which is a great incentive for us, but the other competition, the league, is totally open, but I think we are ready to fight until the end,” he said. “Then we must be proud for our job, for what we are doing this season.”
Diego Costa was Chelsea’s match winner against Southampton, scoring twice in the second half to take his Premier League tally to 51 goals in 85 appearances and end a seven-game scoring drought.
“It’s normal for the strikers that it is important to score. The goals are their life, but, for me, I’ve always said I’ve been pleased with his commitment, his work for the team,” said Conte, whose side face sixth-placed Everton on Sunday. “He always worked for the team.”
Conte said that he had given club captain John Terry a late substitute cameo to “thank” him, following the centerback’s recent announcement that he is to leave the club at the end of the season.
Chelsea took a fifth-minute lead on a chilly evening in west London when Cesc Fabregas’ incisive pass found Costa, whose cutback was swept home by Eden Hazard.
Oriol Romeu, playing against his former club, leveled midway through the first half when he stabbed home Manolo Gabbiadini’s cross after Chelsea were found wanting at a corner.
Gary Cahill restored Chelsea’s lead in first-half stoppage-time, bravely heading in N’Golo Kante’s deep cross, before Costa took center stage in the second half.
He made it 3-1 eight minutes in, nodding in Fabregas’ cross, and drilled home after exchanging passes with Hazard and substitute Pedro late in the game.
Ryan Bertrand, another Chelsea old boy, claimed a consolation goal with a stoppage-time header.
Southampton were beaten 3-0 by Manchester City in their previous game, 10 days prior, and have failed to record a league victory over any of the teams in the top six this season.
Saints manager Claude Puel drew encouragement from the moments of discomfort the visitors caused Chelsea.
“It was a better performance than against Manchester City, but we conceded the goals in bad moments — after five minutes, just before halftime, just after halftime. This made the difference,” Puel said.
Meanwhile, British and French authorities yesterday searched premises on both sides of the English Channel, arresting several men and seizing financial records over suspected tax fraud in the soccer industry, officials said.
English Premier League club West Ham United confirmed that they are under investigation after the UK tax authority Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said it has deployed nearly 200 officers over the case.
Newcastle United — who this week won promotion to the Premier League — are also thought to have been targeted, but were yet to comment.
The Press Association news agency reported that one of the raids was on Newcastle’s St James’ Park ground, with managing director Lee Charnley among those arrested.
“One hundred and eighty HMRC officers have been deployed across the UK and France today,” the tax authority said in a statement.
“Investigators have searched a number of premises in the northeast and southeast of England, and arrested the men and also seized business records, financial records, computers and mobile phones,” it said. “The French authorities are assisting the UK investigation, have made arrests and several locations have been searched in France..”
“This criminal investigation sends a clear message that, whoever you are, if you commit tax fraud you can expect to face the consequences,” it said. “As this is an ongoing investigation, HMRC is unable to provide any further detail at this time.”
West Ham said separately that the club is “cooperating fully with HMRC to assist their inquiries.”
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