For Chelsea supporters, Monday night will be a night to remember. After Tottenham’s loss to West Ham on Friday night, Chelsea’s 3-0 victory over Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge puts them just one win away from clinching a second Premier League title in three years.
The 3-0 scoreline doesn’t really tell the story of the match. Chelsea dominated proceedings, showing an intensity and determination to cross the finish line of a race that’s felt over for a long time.
It’s no slight on Middlesbrough. On this showing, it’s hard to imagine any side coping with the Chelsea side that showed up on Monday night. But this defeat does mean that Boro will be relegated from the Premier League.
The pieces, though, were in place for there to be a few doubts about Chelsea’s chances against a Boro side fighting for survival. The newly-crowned FWA Player of the Year N’Golo Kante failed to recover in time from a thigh injury, robbing the Blues of a player that’s so vital to their midfield solidity.
Luckily for the Blues, Cesc Fabregas is no slouch of a replacement, and in the first minute showed his class on the ball that makes him so dangerous.
A waft of his right foot sent a beautiful diagonal ball over the top that found Marcos Alonso. Alonso was unlucky to score, his volley thudding off the hand of Brad Guzan and clipping the crossbar.
Fabregas was unlucky to get on the scoresheet himself when Eden Hazard found him in acres of space just outside the 18-yard box, but Fabregas could only drag his shot wide.
But on this night, it was the passing of Fabregas that was on full display. Boro didn’t heed the earlier warnings and continued to give Fabregas the freedom of the midfield.
If it wasn’t Fabregas tormenting Boro, it was Cesar Azpilicueta. With little pressure from the Boro midfield, Azpilicueta operated as almost a third midfielder.
The defender joined the party of diagonal passes and found Hazard behind Fabio and Adama Traore down the Chelsea left, and his little pass across the face of goal failed to find the outstretched leg of Diego Costa as he was blocked off by George Friend.
Costa finally got his goal and the breakthrough in the 23rd minute when another brilliant diagonal from Fabregas sent him clear of the Boro defence. A simple cushion of the ball off of his chest left the ball at Costa’s feet, which he slipped between the legs of Guzan before wheeling off in celebration.
Azpilicueta provided the pass for Chelsea’s second when he found Alonso on another diagonal run behind Fabio, and Alonso’s sliding volley from a tight angle deflected off the legs of Guzan and into the net, and Chelsea surely weren’t going to be caught.
Boro offered very little threat going forward, and when Fabregas decided to torment Boro down their left flank by sending Victor Moses clear for a shot that was saved by Guzan, it seemed a matter of how many Chelsea might score.
Just after the restart, Pedro thundered a shot off the crossbar and another romp from Marcos Alonso nearly found Costa in the centre, and Chelsea were certainly enjoying themselves.
The third goal final came just after the hour mark when a cute little pass from Fabregas with the outside of his foot found Nemanja Matic in the area, and Matic fired the ball between the legs of Guzan to send the crowd at Stamford Bridge into wild celebrations and handed Fabregas his 10th assist of the season, the sixth time he’s reached that figure in the Premier League.
Antonio Conte emerged from the dugout to applaud the supporters, as the atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge had become a full-fledged party.
If Chelsea head to the Hawthorns and put in another display like this one, the on-pitch celebrations will finally match the celebrations in the stands. The title will be won.