Chelsea play hosts to Steve Agnew’s Middlesbrough on Monday, as they look to capitalise on Spurs’ defeat to move seven points clear at the summit of the league.
Tottenham Hotspur being defeated at the hand of West Ham United on Friday means that Chelsea now need only 2 more wins to clinch the Premier League title. As things stand, the Blues are now 4 points clear of Spurs, a victory against Middlesbrough would see them go 7 clear at the top.
And if Chelsea win, then following week Antonio Conte’s men will play for the title against Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns and could possibly go on to win it with 2 games to spare. Middlesbrough however, have a lot more on the line going into this tie.
Should Boro lose to Chelsea on Monday, they will be relegated from the English top flight. However, if were to manage to leave London with a point, they could keep their survival hopes alive for another week, until they face Southampton next Saturday.
The last time these two sides faced each other was in November and Chelsea only just managed to leave Riverside victorious with all three points, thanks to a solitary goal from Diego Costa. It was in the midst of Chelsea’s superb 13 game winning streak in the Premier League. Chelsea have since then been able to maintain their place at the summit of the English table, while Boro, then placed 15th, have fallen 4 places in the table to 19th.
Thibaut Courtois has been declared fit for the game after doubt over his fitness post Chelsea’s 0-3 victory at Everton. David Luiz and N’golo Kante are both doubtful for Boro’s visit to the Bridge and it is yet to be seen if they will be handed starts by Antonio Conte.
In their place, we would probably see Nathan Ake and Cesc Fabregas take over in the defence and midfield respectively. John Terry and Kurt Zouma will be available, but it is unlikely they will be allowed to start a crucial tie such as this.
Cesc Fabregas may get to see another rare start as a result and what a luxury it is, to have a player of his calibre as second choice in the starting XI. The remaining midfield places of Marcos Alonso, Nemanja Matic and Victor Moses are pretty much assured.
With both Willian and Pedro fit, Antonio Conte has yet another selection headache. Both of them got their names on the scoresheet at Goodison Park during Chelsea’s win over Everton and barring Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, that is the only position up for grabs in Blues’ front 3.
Predicted Starting XI: Courtois; Ake, Cahill, Azpilicueta; Alonso, Fabregas, Matic, Moses; Hazard, Costa, Pedro
Víctor Valdés is Steve Agnew’s only notable absentee. Grant Leadbitter is also expected to miss out having only just returned from a hamstring injury. It remains to be seen whether the manager chooses to rush the midfielder back into the squad.
Defender David Ayala and midfielders Gaston Ramirez and Adlene Guedioura are also doubtful for the game at Stamford Bridge. It is unlikely we will see any change to the squad that very nearly beat Manchester City last week, only to miss out due to a late Gabriel Jesus goal.
Brad Guzan will likely take his place in goal, while George Friend, Ben Gibson, Calum Chambers and Fabio should make up the rest of Boro’s 4 man defence. Adam Clayton will likely resume his place as the sole holding midfielder, with Stuart Downing and Cristhian Stuani deployed on the wings.
Marten De Roon and Adam Forshaw will be deployed in the center of midfield with Alvaro Negredo leading the line for the North Yorkshire side. They will likely set up in the same 4-1-4-1 seen against Manchester City, and could shift to a 4-3-3 over the course of the game.
Predicted Starting XI: Guzan; Friend, Gibson, Chambers, Fabio; Clayton; Downing, De Roon, Forshaw, Stuani; Negredo
- Chelsea have won their last 6 Premier League games against Middlesbrough, without conceding a single goal.
- Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas is just 1 assist away from getting his 10th of the season. Should he achieve this, he would be the first player to get 10 or more assists in 6 different Premier League seasons.
- Should Chelsea win against Middlesbrough, it would be their 300th Premier League victory at Stamford Bridge.
- Chelsea are the highest scoring team in the Premier League this season, with 72 goals.
- Middlesbrough are the joint-lowest scoring team in the Premier League this season, with 26 goals.
- If Chelsea win their remaining 4 Premier League games, they would end the season with 93 points, only Jose Mourinho’s 2004-05 title winning Chelsea side have more, with 95 points.
- The last time Middlesbrough scored at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League was in September 2001 in a 2-2 draw.
Chelsea 3-0 Middlesbrough
Antonio Conte may be sweating on the fitness of David Luiz and N’golo Kante, but their absence will be no excuse for Chelsea to not emerge victorious from this tie. However, Conte will be wary of the danger that Boro pose, having nearly beaten Manchester City at Riverside last week.
The fact that they are fighting for their lives in the Premier League will make them even more dangerous opposition to face and Chelsea can’t afford to slip up now. West Ham have done them a huge favour by stopping Spurs and the Blues can’t afford to squander this opportunity.
History will be on the side of the Blues and with the amount of quality present in their squad, Chelsea should be able to swat Middlesbrough aside with a comprehensive victory.