Chelsea and manager Antonio Conte moved to the top of the Premier League table with a 1-0 victory at Middlesbrough on Sunday night. The Blues have now won six consecutive league matches.
Middlesbrough 0 Chelsea 1: Match Review
After favourable results on Saturday with Arsenal and Liverpool dropping points, a solid performance at the Riverside Stadium gives Chelsea a one-point lead after 12 matches. Boro did well to keep the match in front of them, but the visitors’ superior possession eventually broke the home side down.
The first half saw Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka deploy an organised and disciplined defensive formation that was designed to slow down Chelsea’s high-powered attack. With numbers behind the ball, Boro focused on being able to strike on the counter-attack.
20-year old Adama Traore again showcased his skill and flair on the ball, working his way around the pitch in spectacular fashion on occasion. Through much of the opening 45 minutes, the approach seemed to have merit. However, Gaston Ramirez could not convert several opportunities throughout when given space.
Boro goalkeeper Victor Valdes made a sensational save on a great effort from Pedro Rodriguez in the 38th minute and the match seemed set for a 0-0 halftime score. But poor defending off a corner kick saw Diego Costa score his tenth goal of the season to give Chelsea a 1-0 advantage.
Costa has now scored five goals in his last six matches and was in fine form after injury concerns with Spain during the international break.
With the visitors unable to move the ball forward effectively, especially after going down a goal, Chelsea were able to comfortably see out the three points on the evening.
3-4-3 continues to shine
Conte’s switch to the 3-4-3 formation this season has seen nothing but positive results for his side. While the Blues did not see the attacking output of their Everton victory, the tactical approach controlled much of the proceedings on Sunday.
Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and David Luiz on the backline have shown an incredible ability to cover ground. N’Golo Kante in the defensive midfield has made the Chelsea line-up even more successful, recording their sixth consecutive clean sheet.
Eden Hazard higher up the pitch with Diego Costa can cause any Premier League defence problems.
Middlesbrough’s defence and work rate
While the goal just before halftime hurt Karanka’s plan in many ways, Boro did put in a fine defensive performance on Sunday night.
Centre-backs Ben Gibson and Calum Chambers were excellent, while Adam Clayton was effective at closing down space in the Chelsea attack.
On a different day and with a bit more luck in the final third, Middlesbrough should have earned a point from the fixture.
No Europe? No problem
Liverpool and Manchester City are tied for second place with 27 points, while Arsenal are fourth with 25 points. The Gunners and City will prepare for UEFA Champions League action this week and the knockout rounds ahead.
With no European commitments this season, both Liverpool and Chelsea will be able to properly prepare and focus on each and every league match moving ahead.
Chelsea will host Tottenham this coming Saturday, while Middlesbrough will travel to Leicester City on the same day.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Valdes, Barragan, Chambers, Gibson, Da Silva (Downing 71’), Forshaw (Leadbitter 90′), Clayton (Fischer 73’), De Roon, Traore, Ramirez, Negredo
Unused subs: Guzan, Espinosa, Nsue, Rhodes
CHELSEA: Courtois, Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Moses (Ivanovic 90′), Kante, Matic, Alonso, Pedro (Chalobah 80’), Costa, Hazard (Oscar 90′)
Unused subs: Begovic, Terry, Fabregas, Batshuayi
REFEREE: Jonathan Moss