COMMENT by Russell Edge
Chelsea must wait until Monday to have their chance to take a step closer to the Premier League title when they host Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues will already know how far title rivals Spurs are behind after their away clash with West Ham on Friday, with a win there putting Mauricio Pochettino’s side a point behind the league leaders.
Antonio Conte’s side managed to keep the distance to four points with a convincing win over Everton last Sunday, but the pressure could be back on following the weekend’s fixtures.
Middlesbrough meanwhile are facing the threat of relegation, sitting six points from safety in 19th, above only already-doomed Sunderland.
With points crucial at both ends of the table, Football Insider analyses three things fans can expect from the clash:
Pedro to steal the limelight
One man who truly shone against Everton at Goodison Park was Spanish winger Pedro.
His pace and trickery tormented the Toffees’ defence and he opened the scoring with a superb strike which left Everton goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg helpless between the sticks.
It was his first goal in eight league games, but once he does score, the 28-year-old tends to go on something of a purple match.
At the start of the year, Pedro went on an impressive scoring run, netting seven times in just nine appearances across all competitions, and with Sunday’s goal under his belt, it can be expected that he is going to put in another show-stopping performance on Monday.
A shaky start from the Blues
Manager Conte admitted to the club’s official website that he has been left sweating on the fitness of key duo David Luiz and N’Golo Kante after picking up injuries in the clash at Goodison Park.
The news will be a huge blow to the Italian boss as both have played crucial roles in their title charge this season, especially in their defensive duties.
Conte will have to find replacements if they fail to recover, with Kurt Zouma and Nathan Ake in contention for the empty slot at the heart of the defence, and Cesc Fabregas the obvious candidate for Kante’s position.
However, changes to such key roles are likely to have an impact no matter who slots in, and fans can expect to see a shaky start from Chelsea as they look to acclimatise to the swaps.
Patience is the name of the game
No matter who starts, the Blues have quality oozing through their side, and Middlesbrough, despite their relegation battle, are unlikely to pose too much of a threat.
They performed admirably in their 2-2 draw with Manchester City last time out, but their Premier League survival hopes are looking slim.
Chelsea are likely to frustrate Middlesbrough by keeping the ball, and as they have done so often this season, pick sides off with an abundance of quality.
They have scored nearly a quarter of their goals in the final 15 minutes of their matches, and their patience is likely to pay off against a desperate Boro side.
- Football Insider prediction: Chelsea 3 – 0 Middlesbrough
In other Chelsea news, two star men are expected to be dropped from the starting XI against Boro.