It was never in any doubt, was it? Any concerns over Chelsea’s win streak coming to an end against a Middlesbrough side in decent form at the moment can be filed away under ‘don’t be so silly’.
Okay, let’s be honest, Aitor Karanka’s side came to the party and were ready to mix it with the boys in blue. But Chelsea dominated the match from the first whistle to the last – confirmed by the stats which show that Conte’s army had 57% possession and restricted the Boro to a solitary shot on target.
Just one goal was forthcoming from Diego Costa, who passed a late fitness test, and while Pedro saw a shot hit the bar and several other half chances shelled it was still a fantastic day out in the north for the Blues faithful. A sixth consecutive clean sheet, three points and back at the top of the Premier League table for the first time since May 2015.
All of which sets us up rather nicely for a tea time duel with our London neighbours Tottenham on Saturday. They have been ‘struggling’ of late, and we do use that term loosely, but knockout out of the Champions League and needing two goals in the last five minutes to beat beleaguered West Ham? That shows signs of a struggle.
So can the lads extend their lead at the summit of the division?
Chelsea Team News
If you submitted such an opinion in the pub you would be laughed at uproariously, but the more time that passes and the more evidence that stacks up in the affirmative, the more we can see that NOT playing in a European competition is good for the club. That might sound counter-intuitive, but think about it: Leicester City won the title last year without needing to resort to a Plan B, because their first choice starting eleven was, by and large, fit throughout the season.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that Chelsea and Liverpool currently straddle the league table then, and as we have seen in Antonio Conte’s team selection in recent weeks the need for consistency and continuity is vital.
Happily, the Italian can call on the same eleven once more with Costa and Eden Hazard back to full fitness after playing with niggles last week. It really is a dreamy situation to be in when things are going well.
Kurt Zouma played another 90 minutes for the Under 23 team as he nears match sharpness, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is training at full tempo following his back strain. With Cesc Fabregas also ready for selection we have a full strength squad to call upon.
Consequently, there is absolutely no reason to rip up the template that has served us so well in recent weeks.
Chelsea v Tottenham Head to Head
As two stalwarts of English football it is not a surprise to see that Chelsea and Spurs have met on some 137 occasions. The Blues have the upper hand with 58 wins compared to Tottenham’s 44, with 35 draws making up the count.
In contests at Stamford Bridge….well, you probably know the famous stat. Spurs haven’t won here since February 1990, with 17 Chelsea victories and 10 draws in the meantime.
Of matches played in the last five years, Chelsea have won on five occasions, Spurs once and there have been six stalemates.
How the Match Will Be Won
Historically, Chelsea have had the upper hand on Tottenham and that trend has continued in the past few years as well, but of course that is only of minute advantage when looking at the overall picture.
Mauricio Pochettino is mixing and matching his starting eleven at the moment; desperate to arrest a decline that ahs witnessed his side winning just two of their last six matches in the Premier League and a rather tame early exit from the Champions League.
He switched to three at the back against Arsenal, a match which ended in a 1-1 draw, and we suspect he might be considering doing the same against the Blues. That would enable him to more or less replicate our 3-4-3, which could be one way to counteract the overloads in wide areas we have enjoyed in recent matches.
The risk with that, from a Tottenham standpoint, is that they simply won’t be as efficient in playing the system as Chelsea, who are growing in strength and confidence week on week.
Another big loss for Tottenham is the absence of their commanding centre half Toby Alderweireld. The Belgian is still out injured, and while Eric Dier and Kevin Wimmer are able deputies they lack his positional nous. As we saw at Middlesbrough last week, give Diego Costa an inch at the moment and he will take a mile; he’s already bagged ten goals this term.
Expect a tight and conservative encounter for the most part – both teams have plenty to lose points-wise and in terms of local pride, but with Spurs failing to score in four of their last six meetings with the Blues we’re going to predict that Chelsea will win to nil here.