Chelsea play Boro as favourites

CityPress - - Sport -

Chelsea will look to con­tinue their mar­vel­lous run of vic­to­ries when they travel to the north­east to take on Mid­dles­brough in the Premier League to­day.

The Blues won all five of their last league games with­out con­ced­ing a sin­gle goal af­ter man­ager An­to­nio Conte shifted his tac­tics to in­clude three cen­tre backs, fol­low­ing a 3-0 thrash­ing at the hands of ri­vals Arse­nal.

De­fen­sive so­lid­ity has not been the only pos­i­tive byprod­uct of this strate­gic shift, as the goals have been com­ing thick and fast as well.

Chelsea have scored 16 goals in those five games, in­clud­ing mas­sive 5-0 and 4-0 wins over Ever­ton and Manch­ester United re­spec­tively.

They have moved up to sec­ond place in the Premier League stand­ings, just one point be­hind pace­set­ters Liver­pool; and all in­volved with the club will be hop­ing against hope the re­cent in­ter­na­tional break did not halt their mo­men­tum.

One of the big­gest high­lights for the Lon­don side has been the re­turn to form of play­maker Eden Haz­ard, who has scored five goals in their last five games, net­ting in all but one of the fix­tures, and Conte took time out be­fore the match to praise the Bel­gian in­ter­na­tional.

“I’m pleased for Eden be­cause he’s play­ing fan­tas­tic foot­ball,” he said.

“He’s work­ing very well in the [train­ing] ses­sions, show­ing great at­ti­tude and com­mit­ment.

“He’s a fan­tas­tic player; he’s work­ing a lot for the team and it’s fan­tas­tic when a player with his ta­lent puts it in for the team. He has the po­ten­tial to do great things in his ca­reer.”

Mid­dles­brough, on the other hand, would’ve wel­comed the re­cent in­ter­na­tional break, as they had not been in the best of form in the lead-up to it.

Their last 10 league fix­tures have yielded just one win, four draws and five de­feats, to see them sit­ting in 15th po­si­tion and only one point above the rel­e­ga­tion places.

With their guests in such good form and clearly a con­tender for the Premier League ti­tle this sea­son, the Boro prob­a­bly aren’t look­ing to this fix­ture as one they need to win to en­sure their sur­vival, but sal­vaging some­thing from the match will go a long way to prov­ing to their doubters that they de­serve a place in Eng­land’s top-flight.

“I think Chelsea are def­i­nitely one of the favourites for the league, es­pe­cially as they are not play­ing Cham­pi­ons League foot­ball,” Mid­dles­brough head coach Ai­tor Karanka said ahead of the game.

“Chelsea is an­other tough challenge for us. An­to­nio Conte is set­tling in the league very well, but we can show once again how we can com­pete.”

In team news, the Blues will have a fully fit squad to choose from af­ter both Diego Costa and Haz­ard re­cov­ered from their re­spec­tive in­juries dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional break.

Ge­orge Friend is miss­ing for the hosts, while Daniel Ayala also misses out through in­jury, but Gastón Ramírez is back in con­tention af­ter serv­ing his one-match sus­pen­sion.

PHOTO: NICK POTTS / PA WIRE

IM­PRES­SIVE Eden Haz­ard was named EPL’s player of the month

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