Tottenham had the opportunity to put us under real pressure in our Monday night fixture at home to Middlesbrough, had they been able to defeat West Ham on Friday. Their inability to do so means that we can win the title this week, if we can win at home on Monday, then away at West Bromwich Albion on Friday night.
With a further two home matches still to play after that, we can afford to lose twice now and still win the title if we can pick up six points from the remaining twelve available. Looking at it from another angle, if we can sow it up at the Hawthorns on Friday, we have a full two weeks to rest players for the FA cup final, as our two remaining league games would be dead rubbers.
This Monday’s fixture at Stamford Bridge is anything but a dead rubber however. With both teams fighting for important points at either end of the table. Middlesbrough are in desperate need of all three points. Swansea’s win over Everton on Saturday was a bitter pill to swallow for them. Realistically Middlesbrough need to win all three of their remaining matches, and hope Swansea pick up no more than one point from their remaining two. This would see Middlesbrough finish on thirty-seven points. If Swansea drew both of their fixtures and Hull win one of their remaining two, coupled with Middlesbrough somehow winning three from three, all three would end on thirty seven points, but Middlesbrough have a superior goal difference to both. Middlesbrough follow this fixture by facing Southampton at home and Liverpool away, so it is looking like a tall order. So realistically, if they cannot beat us at Stamford Bridge, they are down.
Chelsea, while looking nailed on for the title now, still need to pick up the required six points, and it is never over till it’s over. Complacency can prove costly, and with West Brom away not being one of our happiest hunting grounds, it would be nice to take all three points here, knowing that one win from our remaining two home fixtures would be enough if we were to get beaten at the Hawthorns. Tottenham can reach eighty-seven points with wins in all three of their remaining matches. We sit on eighty-one going into this match, so six points by any means is the maximum required to clinch the title. So other permutations are possible, such as one win and three draws from our four remaining matches.
The omens are good for us with regards to this fixture. We have won our last six league meetings with Middlesbrough, and haven’t conceded a goal. The Teesiders have often struggled for goals this season, so one goal could be enough to clinch this one. They also haven’t netted in seven fixtures at Stamford Bridge, which further reinforces this. It is the highest scoring side in the league against the lowest scoring. Middlesbrough finding the net just twenty six times in the league this season prior to this fixture, with Chelsea scoring seventy-two. A win here would be our 300th premier league victory at Stamford Bridge. If we can win all our remaining league matches, we will hold first and second positions for most points in a season by a premier league club. We of course won the title with a record ninety-five in 2004/05, and we can reach ninety-three this season.
The reverse fixture this season was a tough one, Costa netting the only goal of the match from a corner in a tightly fought affair.
Expect no changes in personnel, or system from the standard line up that beat Everton last time out. So 3-4-3 will likely face 4-2-3-1 here. With four points from their last two matches, Middlesbrough have used a 4-3-3 system at home, but away here they may opt to revert to 4-2-3-1 as they have done previously. This reinforces the area between midfield and defence, making it harder for Hazard and Pedro to find space infield. Traore is a threat wide, and possesses pace to burn, and Negredo will have to be well marshalled by our back line. Possibilities exist for us in overlapping our wingbacks, as Downing and Stuani/Traore will be forced to track, hopefully negating their threat going forward. If they don’t, then we can overload the wide areas and stretch them here.
An early goal here would likely put this to bed, although Middlesbrough won’t lie down as this is a must win for them, so if we are ahead late on, expect the kitchen sink to be thrown at us.