MX23RW : Thursday, September 16 10:32:25| >> :60:2735:2735:
May 8, 2017 at 8pm UK at Stamford Bridge
Attendance: 41,500
Costa (23'), Alonso (34'), Matic (65')
FT(HT: 2-0)

Preview: Chelsea vs. Middlesbrough

Sports Mole previews Monday evening's Premier League meeting between Chelsea and Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea play host to strugglers Middlesbrough on Monday evening knowing that another victory will take them within touching distance of a third Premier League title in the space of eight years.

The Blues passed their toughest remaining test with flying colours last weekend by seeing off Everton 3-0 at Goodison Park, and they now have a favourable run of remaining fixtures to get home and dry.


Gary Cahill celebrates with Cesar Azpilicueta during the Premier League game between Chelsea and Southampton on April 25, 2017© SilverHub

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte made it clear recently that he is unhappy about the scheduling of fixtures in the closing weeks of the Premier League season, presumably after looking closely at this weekend's fixtures which sees his side play 72 hours after Tottenham Hotspur.

Should Spurs overcome West Ham United at the London Stadium on Friday night then the gap at the top will be reduced to just the one point - far too close to comfort for the Blues, but they still have their fate in their own hands and can even afford to lose one of their remaining four matches.

That they went for all three points on Merseyside last weekend says it all about the character imposed on this side by Conte, though, as a Pedro belter plus goals from Gary Cahill - again - and Willian put Chelsea on the brink of another title success.

They have already matched the final points tally amassed by champions Leicester City 12 months ago, while 81 points from 34 matches is also the division's best figure since 2005-06 when Jose Mourinho successfully defended the league crown.

Credit must go to Tottenham for putting together nine league wins on the spin in their relentless pursuit at the top, yet regardless of how they perform Chelsea know that wins over Boro, Watford and Sunderland will make certain of top spot.

Victory in all three, plus their remaining away fixture at West Bromwich Albion next weekend, and the West London outfit will hit 93 points, a figure surpassed only once before in Premier League history - the Chelsea class of '05.

Not only do Chelsea have that in their sights, but also the small matter of the FA Cup after overcoming Spurs at Wembley a fortnight ago, with Conte looking to match the impressive feat of countryman Carlo Ancelotti in winning the double in his first campaign at the club.

The Blues have constantly showed the winning mentality required when stumbling, bouncing back all five times after dropping points since the start of October, with their most recent winning run seeing them beat Southampton and Everton on the back of defeat at Old Trafford - arguably their flattest performance under Conte.

Their win at Goodison Park brought about a first clean sheet in 12 outings, too, compared to 10 in 13 earlier in the season, and should they clock up a 300th win at Stamford Bridge on Monday then the celebrations can surely begin.

Recent form in Premier League: LWWLWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWLWWW


Middlesbrough caretaker manager Steve Agnew celebrates the victory over Sunderland on April 26, 2017© SilverHub

Boro are themselves in need of victory at Stamford Bridge in this latest round of fixtures, with time fast running out to save themselves from the drop in what is their first season back in the top flight since 2009.

Stand-in boss Steve Agnew, given the nod to replace Aitor Karanka in February after an alarming slide down the table, has managed to find his feet in the past fortnight by earning four points from the last six on offer.

Victory over Sunderland lifted the mood slightly, earning a first three-point haul of 2017 - the last team in Europe's five major leagues to do so - and a 2-2 draw against top-four chasing Manchester City is also a result that provided plenty of positives.

Those in attendance at the Riverside Stadium last weekend knew full well that anything less than victory would do little to their hopes of survival, however, made all the worse by the concession of a late goal to keep them six points from safety.

Boro may have shown signs of improvement, but it is all too little, too late and now three wins are needed from meetings with Chelsea (A), Southampton (H) and Liverpool (A) or else they will have to prepare for another campaign of second-tier football.

When it comes to reviewing where it all went wrong there is one clear area that let the side down - a serious lack of goals. The Smoggies are the lowest-scoring side in the division, netting 26 times and managing a league-low tally of 93 shots on target overall.

To put that into some context, opponents Chelsea found the target 97 times on home soil alone and netted 72 times in all across their 34 fixtures.

During their 16-game winless run from mid-December to late April, Boro failed to score in 10 of those outings, which largely explains why they went from being six points above Swansea City and Hull City to near certainties for the drop.

Time is not officially up for Boro, in the same way that Chelsea are not officially yet over the line as champions, but should Agnew's men fall to an expected defeat this weekend then the final nail will be in the coffin.

Recent form in Premier League: LDLLWD

Team News

N'Golo Kante in action during the Premier League game between Stoke City and Chelsea on March 18, 2017© SilverHub

Conte could be without two of his key defensive players on Monday night as N'Golo Kante and David Luiz are nursing minor injuries, meaning that the Italian may be forced into a slight reshuffle.

Cesc Fabregas will likely partner Nemanja Matic in the heart of midfield if that is the case, with attacking nous required to break down Boro, while John Terry is an option to fill in for Luiz if Conte is feeling sentimental.

Despite reports to the contrary, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has not suffered a fresh ankle injury and has trained as normal this week, so the Belgian will retain his spot between the sticks.

In terms of the visitors, Gaston Ramirez was left out of the squad against Man City last weekend due to concerns over his discipline, having being sent off against Bournemouth recently.

Agnew did not confirm whether the Uruguayan would return for the trip to West London, but that is expected to be the case with Alvaro Negredo alongside him in attack.

Daniel Ayala and Grant Leadbitter remain doubtful, meanwhile, and Victor Valdes is not expected to return from his injury absence in time, paving the way for Brad Guzan to start in goal.

Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Zouma, Cahill; Moses, Fabregas, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Costa, Hazard

Middlesbrough possible starting lineup:
Guzan; Fabio, Chambers, Gibson, Friend; De Roon, Clayton, Forshaw; Downing, Negredo, Ramirez

Head To Head

Chelsea have been victorious in each of their last six Premier League meetings against Middlesbrough without conceding a single goal.

The Smoggies have gone seven league games at Stamford Bridge without netting, in fact, last doing so in September 2001 in a 2-2 draw.

A 41st-minute Diego Costa goal earned the Blues all three points in the reverse encounter six months ago, moving them top of the table for the first time this season.

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We say: Chelsea 2-0 Middlesbrough

Chelsea appear to have found their groove once again following a rare blip that saw them lose twice in the space of four games last month, with just three more wins between them and a guaranteed title success. Spurs can do their best to put some further pressure on the pacesetters, but it is very much in the Blues' hands and they will head into this match full of confidence.

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N'Golo Kante in action during the Premier League game between Stoke City and Chelsea on March 18, 2017
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