For Chelsea and Antonio Conte, it was normal service resumed after a midweek cup defeat, after Eden Hazard and Diego Costa scored early goals in either half to secure their fourth successive Premier League win and make short shrift of a Southampton side at St Mary’s who had been looking for to stretch their own unbeaten run to six games.
Here, the hosts simply ran out of ideas when faced with an untraversable Chelsea defensive barrier and wilting when pressured by the in-form Hazard and Costa.
There was a swift tempo to the game from the outset and such circumstances suit the qualities of players like Hazard. The Belgian duly obliged. Finding Victor Moses down the right, Hazard continued his run, slipping past Steven Davis.
After receiving the ball back from the Nigerian, Hazard dropped the shoulder to once again elude Davis before drilling a powerful left-footed drive under Fraser Forster for an impressive opener.
For all of Southampton’s neat passing, they struggled to consistently penetrate Chelsea’s three-man defence, and Charlie Austin, as a result, looked increasingly isolated.
Conversely, Chelsea looked menacing when they poured forward in numbers, led invariably, it seemed, by the irrepressible Hazard. However, the next presentable opportunity arrived at the feet of Diego Costa, only for the Spaniard to blast his shot against Forster.
The Saints struggled after the break to build any real momentum, and it proved costly as Costa struck brilliantly ten minutes after the restart to double the visitors’ advantage. Picking up the ball ball outside the area, the striker looked up and saw little movement. He decided then to let fly, curling a masterful shot into the corner beyond Forster.
There was certainly a question over Cuco Martina’s defending. The right-back turned his back on Costa while half-heartedly dangling a leg in front of the shot. Claude Puel would have been less than thrilled about his defender’s slothful attempt to stop Costa, but credit to Chelsea’s top scorer for executing purity of strike.
With no immediate reprisal from the home side, Chelsea pressed to put the result beyond doubt and they should have done just that eight minutes later.
When Hazard pounced on Forster spilling Moses’s shot to coolly square the ball back to Costa, the striker looked for all the world he was going to grab his second. Instead, faced with desperate, flailing limbs of the Saints defenders, he instead stabbed it to Pedro, who wasted the opportunity completely by failing to even register a shot.
It was worth wondering if Chelsea would live to regret not scoring a third when they had the chance, but Southampton offered very little going forward, even after the introduction of exciting record-signing Sofiane Boufal.
Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond, who both started the game brightly, disappeared as Chelsea dominated, leaving Austin with no hope of receiving the service he required to haul his side back into proceedings.
While the result was far from humiliating for Southampton, Puel will be dispirited at the ease to which Chelsea strode to three points. A victory for the Saints would have taken them above Manchester United into eighth in the standings but, for Chelsea, they followed up their ruthless destruction of Jose Mourinho’s side with another assertive, organised and thoroughly impressive display.
Southampton: Forster; Martina, Fonte, Van Dijk, Bertrand; Romeu, Davis, Clasie; Tadic; Redmond, Austin. Substitutes: Taylor, McQueen, Yoshida, Hojbjerg, Ward-Browse, Boufal, Olomola.
Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Costa, Hazard. Substitutes: Begovic, Ivanovic, Terry, Chalobah, Oscar, Willian, Batshuayi.
Referee Mike Jones
Man of the Match: Eden Hazard