COMMENT by Russell Edge
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte should drop striker Diego Costa for their clash with Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge on Monday night as they look to take a step closer to Premier League success.
The Spanish striker has endured a poor run of form lately, with just two goals coming in his last seven league matches, both in the 4-2 win over Southampton.
He struggled to threaten in his last game against Everton in the Blues’ 3-0 and found his way into the book for a needless challenge on Maarten Stekelenburg.
Instead it was left down to Pedro, Gary Cahill and Willian to secure the goals which ensured they stayed four points clear of title rivals Tottenham.
Alongside Costa, David Luiz and N’Golo Kante should be left out the side, after manager Conte admitted to the club’s official website they had been struggling with injuries.
In their place should come Willian, Nathan Ake and Cesc Fabregas, with the side lining up in a 3-4-3 with Eden Hazard playing as a false number nine.
At the back Ake should line up alongside PFA team of the year player Gary Cahill and Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta in a back three, a system which has proved fruitful for Conte this season.
Filling the wing-back roles should be Marcus Alonso and Victor Moses, who have proven to be dependable in both attack and defence.
In the middle of the field Fabregas should be partnered by the resilient Nemanja Matic, whose impeccable work ethic will provide the Spanish midfielder the chance to dictate the pace of the game and add to his nine assists this season.
Chelsea’s front three are going to come up against a Middlesbrough side who are ranked as the 10th best defensive unit in the league, with 45 goals conceded.
They are marshalled by Ben Gibson at the heart of their defence, and forced Manchester City to come back from behind twice to secure a 2-2 draw in their last fixture.
It was Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus who managed to claw the Sky Blues back into the game, and Chelsea should aim to start players of a similar ilk in order to penetrate the defence.
Willian and Pedro both scored in the Blues’ 3-0 win at Goodison Park, while Eden Hazard’s trickery and ball control will cause havoc for the Boro defenders.
In other Chelsea news, boss Conte made this startling admission when asked about the Tottenham v West Ham clash.