Tottenham will be feeling the heat after Chelsea beat Southampton 4-2 to edge closer to the Premier League title, say Blues goalscorers Eden Hazard and Gary Cahill.
The win put Antonio Conte’s team seven points ahead of second-placed Spurs, who are at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
“It’s always good to play before and put pressure on them,” said Hazard.
Cahill called the win a “massive step”, adding: “It’s the first time for a long time we’ve played before Tottenham.”
On Tuesday, Chelsea took a fifth-minute lead when Belgium winger Hazard beat keeper Fraser Forster with a low strike, before Oriol Romeu equalised for the Saints from close range.
England centre-back Cahill, who missed Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Spurs in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final, headed his side back in front just before half-time.
Spain striker Diego Costa put the result beyond doubt with two goals after the break – taking his Chelsea career league tally to 51 – before former Blues defender Ryan Bertrand scored Southampton’s second in stoppage time.
Conte, whose side had been beaten twice in their past four league games, said: “We passed a big step – a big psychological step – after the defeat against Manchester United.
“We lost three points, then we had to prepare a semi-final against Tottenham, then another tough game here. Mentally we have had a really important test.
“Our answer was very good. We must be pleased.”
Conte turned and applauded all four sides of Stamford Bridge as the clock ticked down on a vital night in the Premier League title race.
The pressure valve had been released after the moments of uncertainty in the past 10 days as Conte and Chelsea’s players re-asserted their position at the top of the table with a comfortable win.
Chelsea’s superiority – and nerve – had been questioned after a timid loss at Manchester United came so soon after a shock home defeat by Crystal Palace – but normal service was eventually restored here and they have that important seven-point advantage once more.
The mood around Stamford Bridge was not exactly triumphant, but the feelgood factor is back after the FA Cup semi-final win over Spurs and what was ultimately a comfortable dispatch of Southampton.
Chelsea have responded to being backed into a corner, not just by Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, but also by an excellent Spurs side for the first hour of that pulsating Wembley semi-final.
And much of the credit must go to Conte, who was also questioned after he was tactically outmanoeuvred by Mourinho when the Portuguese’s decision to man mark Eden Hazard with Ander Herrera was a match-winning masterstroke at Old Trafford.
He rested Hazard and Diego Costa from his starting line-up at Wembley, used them when required to win that game and then started them here – with both pivotal to a win that pushes Chelsea closer to the title.
Conte has shown a sure touch from the moment he reverted to his true tactical instincts and his favoured three-man defensive system following a home loss to Liverpool and a chastening 3-0 defeat at Arsenal in September.
So it should come as no surprise that he has responded so well, and so calmly, to a couple of unexpected setbacks to restore balance at Chelsea and ease any anxiety among their supporters.
Conte can now sit back and relax on Wednesday night as Spurs take their turn in the spotlight by tackling a currently very formidable Crystal Palace side in the hostile environment of Selhurst Park