Chelsea have the opportunity to take a great stride towards winning the Premiership title when they host 19th placed Middlesbrough on Monday. By the time they kick off, their lead at the top could be cut to one point if Tottenham beat West Ham in the Friday game. But Chelsea are in superb form and should have little trouble seeing off Boro.
Things are looking pretty dire for the Teesiders. They are six points below safety with just three games left to play, and one of them is away against the best team in the land. Chelsea beat them 1-0 back in November and the situation for Boro has become gradually worse since then. Scoring goals has been their problem: they have hit the net just 26 times in 35 games, the worst record in the league. The teams above them, Swansea and Hull, have scored 40 and 36 goals respectively. Boro have conceded far fewer goals than their relegation rivals, but a lack of ambition has caused them to lose a number of low-scoring games. It cost Aitor Karanka his job, and they have attacked a bit more under caretaker boss Steve Agnew, but they are still destined for the drop.
They come into the game fresh from drawing 2-2 with Man City, a fantastic result, but they are unlikely to have such a good day in west London. Boro have scored just 10 goals away from home all season, while Chelsea have conceded just 13 goals at home. It will be very difficult for Middlesbrough to score here. Antonio Conte’s men went to Goodison Park last weekend and faced an attack bang in form, featuring the league’s top scorer in Romelu Lukaku, and beat Everton 3-0. It was a fantastic performance, and the Blues will fancy their chances of doing a similar job on Boro.
Chelsea have won 14 of 16 at home this season and are playing some great football at present. Their three-man defence is looking solid and will not fear the league’s limpest attack. Going forwards Chelsea have a multitude of options. Even when Diego Costa and Eden Hazard are struggling, the likes of Pedro, Willian and Cesc Fabregas come to the fore. Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso have boundless energy and the width they provide the team should keep Boro busy all afternoon. They are also mentally strong, a team full of experienced winners, and they will be unfazed if Tottenham are hot on their heels.
The odds on a Chelsea win are understandably low: just 2/11 is the best price you can get, at green listed bookmakers. But you can get 3/4 on Chelsea winning this to nil, which looks a great bet when you consider how strong Chelsea have been defensively and how poor Boro have been going forwards. Another option would be Chelsea half-time/full-time, which is 8/13 with Coral and Ladbrokes. That goes back to Chelsea’s mental strength and determination to surge ahead of Tottenham. They should come flying out of the blocks and take it to Middlesbrough from the off. The final option for more value is to look at the handicap market. It is tougher though because to get anywhere close to evens you have to go to Chelsea -2 Asian handicap, which is 13/15 with BetVictor. Chelsea should win it, but winning by three clear goals is another thing.
Hazard had a pretty quiet game against Everton, so you would expect him to respond by running riot against Middlesbrough. Chelsea will have had more than a week to recover from their last game and will be fresh and hungry, and Hazard can lead the charge towards another three points.