Chelsea’s recent wins are major steps towards Premier League title

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Gary Cahill of Chelsea celebrates during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on April 25, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Gary Cahill of Chelsea celebrates during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on April 25, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images) /

Chelsea came through two potential slip-ups with Southampton and Everton unscathed. Antonio Conte’s side now need just three wins to wrap up the title.

Chelsea found themselves in a nervy position following the defeat to Manchester United. Their 10-point lead at the top of the table shrunk to four points in the space of a fortnight, and their closest title challengers were dispatching their opponents comfortably.

Not much has changed in that regard for Tottenham. Spurs have now won nine Premier League games in a row. But Chelsea have repaired their position, taking control back with two big wins in the last week.

Facing Southampton at home did not seem too bad on paper. Claude Puel’s side are locked in mid-table, as they have been for the majority of the year. Since it is the end of season, they would likely play as if they were focusing more on their summer holidays than the match itself.

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But Southampton have consistently caused Chelsea problems since their promotion back to the Premiership in 2012. The Blues went into last Tuesday’s encounter having beaten their opponents just once in five years at Stamford Bridge. The Saints are one of Chelsea’s bogey teams, and for good reason.

Facing them, with Spurs breathing down their necks anticipating another slip-up, was daunting. Anything other than a win would have left the Blues with little room for error for the final month of the season.

Despite a tense start where an Oriol Romeu tap-in cancelled out Eden Hazard’s opener, Chelsea eventually strolled to victory. Gary Cahill put the leaders ahead before the end of the first half. Diego Costa followed up with two goals to secure the win. Ryan Bertrand would score a consolation goal but it was too little, too late.

For Antonio Conte’s side, the victory was symbolic as well as vital. It showed that this group of players were unwilling to let past results against Southampton get in the way of their title challenge. They were battling for only one thing: to increase their lead at the top.

Tottenham responded by grabbing a close win over Crystal Palace, which renewed pressure on Chelsea ahead of their trip to Everton. Much like Southampton, the blue half of Merseyside have proven to be tough opponents. Chelsea only picked up two wins there since 2008. Everton away was a less than ideal situation to be walking into during a tight title race.

The talk before the game said this was the last big test for Conte’s team. A win and they would have all but ensured the title was returning to Stamford Bridge, after the trophy’s one year stay in Leicester.

Yet again, it was a nervy and close battle for the first half, which spilled over into the second period. Chelsea had a few chances but could not find the back of the net. Everton were slow and unwilling to throw too many players forward, though their defence was still proving stubborn.

Only a moment of magic from Pedro in the 65th minute broke the deadlock. After Phil Jagielka gave the little Spaniard room to maneuvre a shot, the ball flew into the top corner and Chelsea had the lead. The fantastic finish sparked wild celebrations in the away stand, with the fans unable to enjoy many moments like that at Goodison Park throughout the years.

Gary Cahill pounced on a goalkeeper mistake, and Willian fired home shortly after to round off the win. A convincing 3-0 victory meant Spurs went into their North London derby with Arsenal seven points adrift. And though they won that contest, the significance of Chelsea’s Merseyside triumph is undeniable.

Everton have one of the more intimidating Premier League stadiums. Tottenham certainly expected them to offer a glimmer of hope in the title race. That was not to be as Chelsea were far too determined to let their four-point lead slip. It was not a pretty performance by the table-toppers, but it was solid. The Blues prevented Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku from their typical threatening effect, while Eden Hazard and Pedro eventually turned on the style at the other end.

In the last week, Chelsea faced two tough fixtures. Southampton and Everton are two teams who have never been easy to beat and have always made life difficult for the Blues. This time around, Chelsea refused to drop points and allow Tottenham to lay extra pressure on them.

With Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Watford all left to play at Stamford Bridge, and a trip to West Bromwich Albion coming up, Chelsea must feel as if they have one hand on the title. All they require now is nine points to ensure Conte triumphs in his first season.

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Should they become champions, the two huge wins picked up in the last week will be a big reason why.