LONDON, United Kingdom, Apr 19 – Chelsea kept their outside chances of chasing down Tottenham Hotspur for a place in next season’s Champions League alive as a much-changed side secured a 2-1 win at Burnley.
At the other end of the table, Southampton crept closer to relegation as a 0-0 draw at Leicester leaves the Saints still four points off safety with just four games remaining to save themselves.
Chelsea closed to within five points of fourth-placed Spurs, but Mauricio Pochettino’s men also have a kinder run in than their London rivals.
Southampton and Chelsea meet for the second time in eight days in a FA Cup semi-final on Sunday after Antonio Conte’s side came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at St. Mary’s on Saturday.
And with the Cup representing Chelsea’s last chance at silverware this season, Conte left Eden Hazard and Willian on the bench as Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata started together up front for the first time.
Burnley’s opening day 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge was an early indicator as to how the season would develop for both sides with Sean Dyche’s side now dreaming of qualifying for European competition for the first time since 1967.
However, Burnley’s hopes of leapfrogging Arsenal into sixth were dealt a blow by a first defeat in seven games.
Conte has lamented Chelsea’s inability to take their chances all season, and it was another night to forget for club record signing Morata as he passed up a host of opportunities to score just his third goal of 2018.
The Spanish international’s first clear opening was well saved by England World Cup hopeful Nick Pope low to his right.
Pope, though, could arguably have done better when the opening goal arrived on 20 minutes as he punched Victor Moses’s cross into the onrushing Kevin Long and the ball ricocheted off the defender into his own net.
Much worse was to come for Morata on the hour mark when he burst clear on goal, but, with just Pope to beat, side-footed wide of the target.
That miss looked like it could be the turning point in the game when four minutes later Burnley levelled in fortuitous fashion.
Joey Gudmundsson’s long-range effort was heading well wide until it deflected off Ashley Barnes to completely wrong-foot Chelsea ‘keeper Thibaut Courtois.
Just minutes later, though, Chelsea retook the lead when Moses fired in low at Pope’s near post from Emerson Palmieri’s cross.
Morata then stormed off the field in disgust at himself as he was replaced by Hazard for the final 20 minutes.
But despite some delightful touches by the Belgian, Chelsea had to settle for victory by the finest of margins.
At the King Power, Leicester manager Claude Puel took his revenge after Southampton sacked the Frenchman despite finishing eighth and reaching the League Cup final last season by pushing his former employers closer to the drop.
In a game of few clear-cut chances, Shane Long had Southampton’s best effort as he was denied by a point-blank save by Leicester’s reserve goalkeeper Ben Hamer.
At the other end, Alex McCarthy also made a smart stop from Jamie Vardy as Southampton at least stopped a run of four straight league defeats.