Chelsea close in on title and condemn Boro to relegation

LONDON: Chelsea moved one more win away from clinching the Premier League title with a 3-0 victory that condemned Middlesbrough to relegation on Monday after goals from Spaniards Diego Costa and Marcos Alonso plus a tap-in by Nemanja Matic in an attack masterfully orchestrated by Cesc Fabregas at Stamford Bridge.

The Blues have the chance to claim their second league title in three seasons when they face West Bromwich Albion on Friday. Chelsea have 84 points from 35 games followed by Tottenham Hotspur on 77 points also with three games remaining.

“This game was very important for us after Tottenham’s defeat [at West Ham on Friday] and the possibility to take three points and go seven points clear of Tottenham,” said Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, in his first season at the club.

“This is a big step because there are three games and we need to take three points to win the title. We have to rest well and prepare for West Brom but it won’t be easy because they are a really good team, a physical team, and we must pay great attention. We must try in the next game to become champions.”

Costa got his 20th league goal this season in the 23rd minute, controlling a ball lofted into the area by compatriot Cesc Fabregas and neatly nutmegging keeper Brad Guzan.

Two Spaniards were involved in Chelsea’s second goal in the 34th minute, Cesar Azpilicueta lifting the ball to Alonso on the left, who squeezed it under Guzan, with the ball hitting the stranded keepers’ legs on the way into the net.

Nemanja Matic got the third goal in the 65th from another neat Fabregas chip to pile the misery on Boro, who will join north-east neighbours Sunderland in the second tier next season.

“Everybody is devastated,” Middlesbrough manager Steve Agnew told Sky Sports. “I’ve left a very silent dressing room. It’s a terrific club and it’s about how we reflect over the summer. We need to make sure Boro bounce back very quickly.”

Chelsea were without their injured France international N’Golo Kante, who won this season’s PFA and football writers’ Player of the Year awards, but Spaniard Fabregas controlled the midfield with almost languid confidence in his absence.

By the second half Conte’s team were buzzing and an increasingly beleaguered Middlesbrough side rarely managed to move out of their own half as they headed for the trap door.

Despite his side’s total control of the game, the ever feverish Conte prowled the touchline as usual, gesticulating wildly and yelling commands to his players.

Chants of “Antonio, Antonio” reverberated around the ground as the whistle went and the Italian hugged his assistants before applauding and shaking hands with the despondent Boro players.

But perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came in the 84th, as captain John Terry was introduced for a cameo appearance. His 19-year career at Chelsea ends after the season.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2017

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