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Diego Costa absence,Chelsea stretch lead

Diego Costa

Chelsea moved seven points clear at the top of the Premier league as they made light work of Diego Costa’s absence to record a routine victory at Leicester.

Marcos Alonso’s double helped the leaders brush aside the defending champions, who produced a poor performance as Antonio Conte’s side clinched a 3-0 win.

Pedro added a third as the foxes slumped to a 10th defeat of the season to leave them five points above the relegation zone.

Chelsea started the game four points clear having seen their 13-match winning league run ended by a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham, but the focus was on the missing Diego Costa after reports of a bust-up with boss Conte.

The striker did not travel with the rest of the squad and Chelsea had initially declined to comment on Friday’s reports but before the game Conte said, via the club’s Twitter account, that the 28-year-old suffered a back injury on Tuesday.

Diego Costa, Chelsea’s 14-goal top scorer, has been linked with a move to China and was replaced by Willian in the visitors’ only change from the loss at Spurs two weeks ago.

Eden Hazard started as the most advanced player but the leaders’ early opener came from an unlikely source.

Ahmed Musa had threatened the visiting goal after two minutes but Chelsea quickly took control and were ahead four minutes later.

Cesar Azpilicueta’s delicious cross caused chaos in the Leicester defence before it fell to Hazard to tee up the unmarked Alonso, who hammered in from six yards.

There was little reaction from Leicester as Chelsea threatened a procession with the Foxes completing just 15 passes inside the opening quarter of an hour.

The rotation of Chelsea’s front three, Hazard, Willian and Pedro, caused the hosts issues, with Willian particularly impressive, and any threats were batted away by Gary Cahill and David Luiz as the subdued Foxes looked short of ideas.

Without Riyad Mahrez, on African Nations Cup duty with Algeria, they lacked their main supply line to Jamie Vardy and Musa, with the pair living off scraps.

The only real alarm came after 36 minutes when Courtois pushed away Vardy’s low cross, but the visitors always held a degree of control.

Yet they failed to add to their lead in the first half having failed to test Kasper Schmeichel since opening the scoring, although a neat free kick move ended with Pedro firing wide three minutes before the break.

 There was almost an air of resignation from Leicester after the early goal, and a second for Chelsea arrived six minutes into the second half.

Willian was fouled by Christian Fuchs and his right-wing free-kick was only half cleared to Alonso, whose low 18-yard drive hit Wes Morgan to squirm past Schmeichel.

It was a strike Chelsea deserved and they went hunting for more as Cahill’s overhead kick was blocked before Alonso was inches away from a shock hat trick when his ambitious first-time volley dropped wide.

But Pedro wrapped up the points with 20 minutes left as Chelsea underlined their superiority and the gulf between the two sides.

His flick found Willian and, when the midfielder’s cross looped off Schmeichel, Pedro rose to nod into an empty net.

Diego Costa absence not keenly felt

The 24 hours of prematch buildup had been consumed by the Costa affair, as both sides of the argument countered the other over a lucrative offer from China that may or may not have turned the striker’s head.

What stayed undisputed was Costa’s absence from Saturday’s match. How Chelsea might learn to live without a player who had scored 14 goals in 19 matches was the key plot line before kickoff. Employing Hazard as a false No.9 was little surprise, considering the Belgian destroyed Bournemouth when fulfilling that role on Dec. 26 — Costa’s previous absence from the Premier League — in a 3-0 stroll.

Michy Batshuayi, yet to start a Premier League game, sat on the bench as per usual and played the last seven minutes, by which point the contest was finished. Should the Costa crisis worsen and the relationship with Conte become irreparable, another striker will surely be sought to lead the line. Swansea’s Fernando Llorente remains the most widely speculated January purchase.

Hazard’s usefulness in the centre was quickly exhibited, as his speed of thought gave Alonso space and the angle to score. To Costa and his admirers, which included a section of away fans singing their hero’s name, the point was made as early as the sixth minute, even if there were occasional passages of play where Chelsea missed his ability to bully opposing defences.

By the end, though, Conte’s name was sung far louder than his dissident leading scorer.

Credit:@ESPNFC

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