Sunday 22 October 2017

Middlesbrough are relegated as dominant Chelsea close in on title

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte

Chelsea moved within three points of the Premier League title and consigned Middlesbrough to relegation with a dominant 3-0 victory at Stamford Bridge.

Goals from Diego Costa, Marcos Alonso and Nemanja Matic saw Chelsea re-establish a seven-point lead over Tottenham. And Antonio Conte's men can win the title before Spurs next play with victory at West Brom on Friday night.

Costa scored his 20th league goal of the season, converting a pass from the excellent Cesc Fabregas, and Alonso netted from a similar position before half-time.

And Matic struck in a second-half which began with Pedro hitting the bar as Brad Guzan conceded through his legs for a third time.

It could have been many more for the champions-elect in a one-sided contest.

Boro, now with one win in 19 league games, will be playing in the Sky Bet Championship next season after a record-equalling fourth demotion from the Premier League.

The visitors' night began with a bump. A minor nudge in rush hour traffic contributed to the delayed arrival of the Boro bus.

History was also against Boro, who were without a league win and had not even scored in seven games at Stamford Bridge since 2001.

Chelsea's in-house TV channel showed the 1997 FA Cup final between the teams prior to the match, when Roberto di Matteo scored after 42 seconds.

Chelsea play Arsenal in the FA Cup final on May 27 hoping to complete the season with the double.

Di Matteo and his predecessor as Chelsea boss Andre Villas Boas lost their jobs after defeats at The Hawthorns. Conte goes there on Friday seeking the title in his first season as head coach.

Bayern Munich boss Carlo Ancelotti, Conte's former boss at Juventus and a double winner with Chelsea in 2009-10, was in attendance.

So were Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and former strikers Andriy Schevchenko and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who also played for Boro.

Baggies boss Tony Pulis was also present, but if his side avoid defeat on Friday it will only delay the inevitable as Chelsea next play mid-table Watford and relegated Sunderland at home.

There was an expectant atmosphere after Spurs' loss at West Ham on Friday night eased any title anxiety.

N'Golo Kante was not risked due to a minor thigh injury and Fabregas, his replacement, found his passing range from the start.

The Spain playmaker lofted the ball to Alonso, whose volley was turned on to the bar by Brad Guzan in the second minute.

Boro did not learn as Chelsea repeated the trick time and again.

Home supporters sang "we're going to win the league" as Chelsea played through, over and round Boro almost at will. Visiting fans responded "we're going down".

Eden Hazard picked out Fabregas in the box, but the midfielder's shot drifted wide.

Hazard again tried to lay on a goal with a cross which nutmegged Fabio, but Costa was beaten to the ball by George Friend.

Chelsea and Costa breached the defence moments later. And it was a familiar combination.

Fabregas' lofted ball found Costa unmarked six yards out. He controlled the ball and passed through the legs of Guzan, who conceded eight here as Aston Villa goalkeeper in December 2012.

Conte had told Costa and Fabregas to concentrate on the here and now amid speculation over their futures and both showed their value to potential suitors - and to Chelsea.

Cesar Azpilicueta next stepped up to mimic Fabregas, clipping a pass over for Alonso to slide in, shoot and score between Guzan's legs. Fabio was conspicuous by his absence, again.

Guzan saved from Moses before the interval and Pedro hit the bar within seconds of the restart.

Alonso next fired wide - and just out of reach of Costa - Gary Cahill stung the hands of Guzan and a deflected Fabregas effort went wide.

A third goal came when Fabregas found Matic, who controlled the ball on his chest and swept the ball in - the third goal scored through Guzan's legs.

Thibaut Courtois was finally called into action to make a regulation save from Grant Leadbitter as Chelsea continued to pour forwards, with Pedro firing over and Guzan denying Moses.

There was time for sentiment from Conte as John Terry came on for his 715th Chelsea appearance.

Another four are possible as he seeks to take his tally of 14 major trophies to 16 before leaving this summer. The Premier League appears certain to be number 15.

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