Chelsea relegated Middlesbrough and left themselves one win away from the Premier League title with a comfortable 3-0 victory on Monday night. What have we learnt from the game?
Chelsea used the left
Marcos Alonso and Eden Hazard got into dangerous areas on numerous occasions early on. The former hit the woodwork moments after kick-off before the latter’s drilled crossed nearly got a touch from Diego Costa, who was denied by George Friend’s last ditch intervention. Adama Traore’s reluctance to track back and close down players on that flank left Fabio Da Silva isolated and forced to stay still, giving Hazard and Alonso too much time on the ball.
Disciplined wide men
In fact, Hazard and Pedro were arguably more disciplined than Traore, despite playing for heavy favourites. Chelsea pressed into the opposing half efficiently but when Marten De Roon, Adam Forshaw or namesake Clayton carried the ball beyond the half-way line, their wide forwards would drop in and block off space. Boro did not have the pace or guile to make any inroads, so the passage of play would typically end with a pass going astray to give Chelsea possession.
Too much space for Fabregas
Middlesbrough’s attempts to congest their defensive third meant Cesc Fabregas, one of the best passers of a ball in world football, had space to run the show. The Spaniard was a delight to watch at times, his touch exquisite, his smooth play switching effortlessly accurate. He spotted the smallest gap beyond Fabio in the box on 22 minutes and picked out Diego Costa, who found his composure to slot through Brad Guzan’s legs.
Not Brad’s day
The American would be megged again not a quarter of an hour later. After Fabregas orchestrated yet another period of possession, Azpilicueta lifted a pass one might expect from his compatriot towards Alonso, whose close-range effort was deflected through Guzan’s legs in comical fashion. The ex-Aston Villa goalkeeper at least kept Victor Moses out by blocking with his feet on 37 minutes, after the wing-back was released by you-know-who. Guzan has shipped 15 goals in his last seven and should Victor Valdes leave, his form may mean a chance next season for Connor Ripley, who has been outstanding in League One for Oldham.
Comfortable second half
Once the half-time whistle sounded, two things were known: Boro would be relegated that evening and Chelsea would go on to win the title. They dominated much of the second half, so the third goal was unsurprising both in occurrence and in manner. Another Fabregas assist and another shot through Guzan’s legs, this a firm close-range strike from Nemanja Matic on 66 minutes. The Blues never had to get out of second gear in the latter stages, but in attack at least, their opponents struggled to find any gears all season.