Marcos Alonso's stunning free-kick earned Chelsea a 1-0 victory against Southampton in the Premier League on Saturday, extending his team's winning home league run to five straight games.
Although the scoreline suggests a tight match, the champions dominated throughout and could have won far more comfortably had Fraser Forster not performed as well in the visitors' goal, while Eden Hazard had a strike ruled out for a marginal offside against substitute Cesc Fabregas.
The win moves Chelsea level on points with second-placed Manchester United, who travel to West Brom on Sunday, while Southampton - who dropped Virgil van Dijk - are winless in five Premier League matches.
Chelsea were on top throughout the first half at Stamford Bridge, with Forster making multiple saves and a Pedro effort deflecting onto the post.
The impressive Alonso broke the deadlock just before half-time, though, bending a delightful free-kick into the bottom-left corner from 25 yards out for his fourth goal of the season.
Charlie Austin had two fine chances to level the scores but could not find a way past Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, whose saves secured a fourth successive Premier League victory over Southampton for the Blues.
Southampton rang the changes after a 4-1 loss at home to Leicester City last time out and they created the first opening at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea captain Gary Cahill clearing a dangerous low cross from former Blues full-back Ryan Bertrand at the second attempt.
Willian burst into the box in the 14th minute thanks to a sublime one-two with Alonso, but the Brazilian sliced a presentable opening wide of the upright.
Forster punched away an Alonso volley and the goalkeeper then made saves from Cahill and N'Golo Kante shot as Chelsea cranked up pressure.
Terrific wing play from Willian created another opening for Alonso after 32 minutes, but Forster got down quickly to push the Spaniard's arrowed strike around his right-hand post.
Chelsea continued to exploit weakness down Southampton's right after Cedric Soares' 17th-minute exit due to injury, Pedro cutting inside but seeing his shot deflect onto the woodwork.
And on the stroke of half-time, Chelsea scored the goal their dominance deserved. Hazard's driving run was ended by Maya Yoshida, with Alonso stepping up to beat Forster with a dipping effort from the resultant free-kick.
7 - Chelsea have scored seven direct free-kicks under Antonio Conte in all competitions, more than any other Premier League side since the start of last season. Arrow.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 16, 2017
In-form Austin almost scored moments after his introduction as a second-half substitute, but the striker was denied by Courtois after running on to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg's pass.
Hazard, who was playing as a false nine, thought he had scored his side's second after lashing in following a one-two with Fabregas, but a raised offside flag saw the goal disallowed.
Forster saved another effort from Alonso in the 71st minute and the goal-hungry defender then headed a Willian cross wide after substitute Alvaro Morata fired straight at the Saints keeper.
Courtois denied Austin again, the striker slipping at the vital moment and failing to get power on his poked effort, before Fabregas squeezed an effort narrowly wide from a tight angle after a cleverly taken quick free-kick.
Austin turned James Ward-Prowse's right-wing cross off target with five minutes to play as Southampton pushed for an equaliser, but Chelsea clung on for maximum points.
Key Opta facts:
- Chelsea have won eight of their last 10 games in the Premier League (D1 L1), including each of the last five at Stamford Bridge.
- Southampton have only won two of their 41 top-flight away matches against the reigning champions – they beat Leeds United in March 1970 and Chelsea in October 2015.
- Marcos Alonso has had a hand in 14 goals since his Chelsea debut (10 goals, four assists); more than any other Premier League defender.
- Southampton have made 25 changes to their starting XI over their last five Premier League games - in their previous 13 games this season they made 21 changes.
|Catalans to defend Challenge Cup after resolving RFL dispute|
|Djokovic wears down Medvedev to reach last eight|
|Mouratoglou: I knew ´loyal´ Serena would not fire me after US Open turmoil|
|Barcelona B defender Wague accuses Ejea fans of racist abuse|
|I felt like I had been hit by a train - Halep upbeat despite losing Serena battle|
|Arsenal confirm Mislintat departure|
|Icardi will renew, 100 per cent - Wanda Nara offers latest Inter assurance|
|Japan 1 Saudi Arabia 0: Four-time winners send Pizzi´s men out|
|A souvlaki maybe named after him, a growing fan base – Tsitsipas creating Melbourne buzz|
|Barca winger Dembele out for 15 days|
|Strikers blown away by Hurricanes in Adelaide|
|Ireland lose Beirne for England and Scotland clashes|
|´Innate fighter´ Serena says character key to beating Halep|
|Hudson-Odoi ´an outstanding talent´ - Bayern great Ballack hails Chelsea youngster|
|Scotland call up four as hand injury forces Watson out|
|Serena comes through major Halep battle to reach last eight|
|Better than Rafa? Camacho cameo leaves Klopp unconvinced by transfer options|
|England job ´a privileged position´, says Southgate|
|Emery has confidence in Arsenal outcast Ozil|
|Zverev destroys racquet in Aus Open meltdown|
|From Villarreal to Aus Open quarters – Bautista Agut breaks major duck|
|Brees: I plan on being here next year and making another run at it|
|´Unf******-believable bro!´ - Brady stunned after reaching third straight Super Bowl|
|New England find answers, penalty costs Kansas City – three takeaways from Patriots´ win over Chiefs|
|Donald Trump congratulates Brady and Super Bowl-bound Patriots|
|Rose helps Timberwolves down Suns|
|Brady leads Patriots into third straight Super Bowl|
|Osaka overcomes Sevastova to reach quarters|
|Chelsea remain behind Sarri – David Luiz|
|McVay explains Gurley´s limited role in Rams´ win over Saints|
|Southgate hails ´tremendous talent´ Rashford|
|Long earns maiden PGA Tour win at Desert Classic|
|Flanagan resigns as Sharks head coach|
|Rams´ Robey-Coleman admits he committed penalty on controversial no-call|
|NFL admits they blew the call – Saints coach Payton|
|Terrible no-call, Goff shines – three takeaways from Rams´ win over Saints|
|Lonzo Ball to miss 4-6 weeks with ankle sprain|
|Patterson added to Australia Test squad|
|Zuerlein´s overtime kick sinks Saints and sends Rams to Super Bowl|
|It was a clear goal – Valverde dismisses Barca VAR controversy|
|Rashford can emulate Man United greats Ronaldo and Rooney – Solskjaer|
|Karmichael Hunt swaps Reds for Waratahs|
|Barcelona forward Dembele set for tests on sprained ankle|
|Neymar insists Barcelona and Real Madrid links not ´concrete´|
|England trio Nowell, Slade and Cowan-Dickie sign fresh Exeter deals|
|Windies coach Pybus not distracted by detractors|
|Barcelona 3 Leganes 1: Messi and Suarez combine to spare Barca´s blushes|
|I´m sure Michael would be extremely proud - Vettel hails Mick Schumacher|
|Young plays down injury fears for England trio Launchbury, Shields and Hughes|
|Pochettino: Lucas Moura fit for Chelsea clash|
|Ranieri positive on Fulham survival chances despite ´unbelievable´ Spurs loss|
|United Arab Emirates v Kyrgyzstan: Zaccheroni confident in attack|
|South Korea lose Ki to hamstring injury|
|It doesn´t look great - Pochettino to wait on Alli assessment|
|Messi benched as Barcelona face Leganes|
|Dalglish texts me before matches - Van Dijk|
|Patrick Mahomes could sign NFL´s first $200m contract - reports|
|Iran 2 Oman 0: Jahanbakhsh and Dejagah secure last-eight spot|
|Helloooo u remember me? Nkoudou reminds Spurs fans he exists|
|Japan v Saudi Arabia: Pizzi believes Saudis can upset the odds|
|Repsol Honda´s Lorenzo to have surgery on fractured wrist|
|Fulham 1 Tottenham 2: Winks heads late winner after Alli injury|
|Leinster seal home quarter-final with win over Wasps|
|Vince, Curran star as Sixers trounce Heat to move second|
|Sharapova stunned by Barty as Kvitova takes Anisimova to school|
|Guardiola demands improvement after Man City win|
|Sexton has bat phone to referees - Jones|
|Alonso accepts Chelsea guilty of ´silly mistakes´ in Arsenal defeat|
|Guardiola woke us up - Sane reveals half-time rocket for Man City|
|A first step to something bigger - Tsitsipas eyeing glory after shocking Federer|