Chelsea one win away from Premier League crown after battering Middlesbrough 3-0

Match Summary

Chelsea are just one win away from being crowned Premier League champions after a resounding 3-0 win against Middlesbrough, and in doing so sent the visitors down.

The Blues, whose slim 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture in November sent them top of the table for the first time in since winning the league in the 2014/15 season, surely confirmed that their name will once again be on the 2016/17 trophy, after a near-perfect performance.

With Tottenham slipping up on Friday, the Blues knew they needed to exploit the chance to extend the lead to seven points, and Costa, Alonso and Matic did just that, though Cesc Fabregas will take all the plaudits for another exceptional assist-making display.

It means Chelsea can secure their sixth league crown on Friday night away at West Brom, before Tottenham even have a chance to play again.

It was a match both sides needed to win for very difference reasons. For Middlesbrough, one would have expected a dogged, last-ditch attempt at survival. For Chelsea, one would have been forgiven if nerves crept in knowing Tottenham lost earlier in the weekend.

What transpire was totally the opposite: Chelsea oozing class from the off and Middlesbrough frankly all off and resigned to being relegated for a record-equalling fourth time.

One enforced change saw Fabregas come in for the injured Kante but the man is no inferior and needs no introduction. Inside 90 seconds, the Spaniard floated an exceptional cross-field ball right onto the foot of Alonso, who volleyed with great technique. Guzan pushed it onto the bar, but the warning signs were there because Fabregas was given simply too much space.

The 30-year-old could have taken a goal for himself when Hazard flighted a ball nicely to him but Fabregas, with acres of room and centrally inside the penalty area, opted to place rather than rifle and in the end got his angles wrong.

Costa was then inches away from tapping in Hazard’s square ball after the Belgian was found superbly by Azpilicueta, but he did not have to wait long to score the opening goal of a Premier League game for the seventh time this season, more than any other player. The Spaniard was found by his compatriot Fabregas who read the situation superbly and Costa just had to nutmeg Guzan. In doing so, it means Costa has become the third player to score 20+ goals in a Premier League season for Chelsea on two occasions.

The chances just kept coming. Moses and Hazard exchanged glorious one-twos but no-one was there to tap home from two yards, but it would get better. Azpilicueta found Alonso and left wing-back beat the offside trap well and slotted home his sixth goal of the season.

Just half an hour had been played but Chelsea were running riot.

Fabregas’ 70-yard ball to Moses was pinpoint, and the right wing-back should have done better when one-on-one with Guzan.

Would Chelsea step off the gas in the second half? No, Pedro would hit the cross-bar in the first minute of it. Then Alonso would drill a cross goalward and Costa was inches away from sliding in a third.

Cahill joined in on the action with a stunning 25-yard drive, whilst Fabregas’ try from a similar range was nearly deflected off Chambers’ head and nearly caught Guzan wrong-footed.

Matic would add the icing on the cake. From a short set-piece between Fabregas and Hazard, the former chipped the ball towards the Serbian, who chested it and then scored his first Premier League of the season.

When Courtois did have to make his first save of the game, it was a routine 30-yard drive, but all the action was the other way. Pedro blazed wide when on a counter-attack with Fabregas and Luiz, whilst Moses was denied by Guzan’s leg.

It could have been more, but Abramovich and Shevchenko was delighted, as was Ancelotti who was in the crowd, no doubt cheering on his compatriot Antonio Conte, who is on track for a debut-season double, just as Ancelotti managed in 2009-10.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

CESC FABREGAS: The man has only had a bit-part say in Chelsea’s starting line-up, but his influence is huge. He may not get all the starts, but when called upon the Spaniard delivers. That is credit to his personality, for he could have sulked, and he summed it up beautifully in a recent interview: “I feel like I have matured a lot this year. Obviously I haven’t played every single game [but] the quality of my minutes whenever I have been on the pitch has been fantastic this season, my contribution maybe sometimes is even bigger than in full seasons where I have played every single game. I have had to have patience and accept these things happen.” More assists like tonight and Conte will have no choice but to make him a regular starter for next season. 9/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte knew tonight was a big chance: “We must be pleased. It was a great performance, my players showed commitment and work-rate for three important points. At this stage it was important to win and exploit Tottenham’s defeat. Now, another step to the title. We have to rest well and prepare for West Brom.”

Agnew was resigned: “I am absolutely gutted and bitterly disappointed with the result and we have now lost our Premier League status which we took great pride in.”

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea extend lead at top of table to 7 points with 4-2 win against Southampton

Match Summary

Chelsea put the pressure back on second-placed Tottenham with an entertaining 4-2 win against Southampton, extending their lead at the top of the table to 7 points with their title-chasers playing tomorrow.

The Blues continued their fine win against Tottenham at Wembley with a fast start thanks to Hazard’s goal inside five minutes, but ex-Chelsea man Oriol Romeu levelled the score.

Gary Cahill, and then two by Diego Costa, secured the points before another former Chelsea player Ryan Betrand added another consolation.

The win means Chelsea continue to be in pole position with five games remaining, but the lack of clean sheets — none in Chelsea’s last 11 Premier League games — is Chelsea’s worst record for more than two decades and will surely worry Antonio Conte.

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With Costa and Hazard rested for the huge majority of the morale-boosting FA Cup semi-final win against Tottenham just 72 hours earlier, Chelsea’s sharpest men should have been ready from the off.

And they certainly were.

Fabregas’ long ball to Costa was controlled by his fellow Spaniard, before the striker found Hazard in the box. Though the ball was slightly behind the Belgian, Hazard sorted his feet out and swept home the opening goal from 15 yards.

The 26-year-old could have added a second 10 minutes later but curled wide, and how his side was made to pay because Romeu was to pull a goal back half-way through the first-half. Sloppy play from a Southampton corner saw the ball run all the way to the far post to Gabbiadini, and a simple cross to Romeu left the Spaniard with just a tap-in to finish.

Matic nearly replicated his screamer from Saturday, whilst Kante turned into Lionel Messi with a mazy 40-yard run which ultimately bore no fruits. Hazard should have shown more of a killer instinct when one-on-one with Forster, but decided to pull the ball back to thin air.

It looked like both sides would go into the half-time interval honours even, but a Gary Cahill header changed things. Costa had tried to go for the ball with an audacious over-head kick, but captain Cahill barged his striker out of the way in favour of the more robust head. The ball nestled into Forster’s net and Chelsea would go into the half-time break with a different team-talk.

Things got better eight minutes into the second half when the old partnership of Fabregas and Costa linked up once more. The former found the latter, who in all honesty was poorly-marked inside the box, and from a standing start headed the ball past Forster to make it 3-1. It was his first Chelsea goal in eight games, but became his 50th in a Blue shirt.

A period of relative inactivity followed, dictated by Chelsea who were riding comfortably with the two-goal cushion — Pedro and Matic had shots — whilst John Terry was brought on to shore up the defence in the closing stages.

This was the 36-year-old’s first start since November, and comes soon after announcing he is to leave his boyhood club next month. Was this an early send-off?

Still, the football did the talking twice more for the final stages: a superb team goal involving one-twos with Costa and Hazard and then Costa and Pedro saw the forward then take the ball in his stride to fire past Forster to make it 4-1, but the gloss was once more taken off when Ryan Betrand headed home deep in injury time.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

CESC FABREGAS: Pulls the strings effortlessly. The Spaniard was moved further forward for this game, with Matic and Kante protecting the back-four, and the Spaniard delivered in this more advanced role alongside Hazard, getting into dangerous positions and finding Costa on a number of occasions. Throw in another assist — only Ryan Giggs has more in the Premier League era — and it was all-round another good day for the midfielder and his team. 7/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte was confident: “It was a good win. Today I have to be pleased with the effort of my players. It wasn’t easy after a tough game against Tottenham. Southampton have good players and play good football. We must be confident for the future. It’s important to look at ourselves and not others.”

Puel understood the differences in quality of the two sides: “We played against a good team. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa made the difference today. I had the privilege to start Hazard at Lille. He has the same quality. He’s a fantastic player. At 16, he was the same.”

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Hazard and Costa on point as Conte’s Chelsea beat West Ham 2-1

Match Summary

Chelsea go 10 games unbeaten, and extend their lead at the top of the table to 10 points, after a comfortable east-meets-west London derby against West Ham in the London Stadium.

Goals in either half by Eden Hazard and Diego Costa was enough to avenge defeat to the hosts in the EFL Cup earlier in the season, but Lanzini’s injury-time goal denies Chelsea their clean sheet, meaning the visitors have only kept two clean sheets in their last nine league games, having recorded 10 shut-outs in the previous 12 top-flight matches.

Regardless of defensive frailties, the attacking prowess of Hazard and Costa was strong enough to give Chelsea all three points, and it could have been more convincing but for some good saves from Randolph.

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West Ham have won their last two home games against Chelsea, both by a 2-1 scoreline, so it was no surprise to see Conte set his side up to score early. However, the Italian himself may have been as caught out as West Ham’s defence was, with Luiz’s long through-ball right from kick-off nearly finding Pedro to score a goal in still a single-digit number of seconds.

The early drama subsided with lengthy spells of possession, with neither keeper significantly tested, but the goal did come eventually, from a fast Chelsea counter-attack.

When West Ham’s attack broke down by none other than N’Golo Kante, Hazard and Pedro exchanged a series of one-twos as they raced half the length of the field. A final crisp assist by Pedro saw Hazard one-on-one, and after rounding Randolph, the Belgian tucked the ball into the back of the net.

The Blues have scored the opening goal of the game 21 times this season in the Premier League, four more times than any other side, but had to be wary of a West Ham recovery, with Noble and Lanzini occupying dangerous positions in Chelsea’s penalty area.

But Chelsea never looked like losing control.

Pin-ball in the West Ham box saw Hazard, Costa, Moses and Pedro all fire at Randolph but the Irish goalkeeper was standing firm and saved well before clearing the melee.

A similar stand-off ensued at the other end, with Feghouli’s shot eventually being blocked to safety by Victor Moses.

Andy Carroll was an important recall for Bilic after injury, but Chelsea never looked like losing that control in the second half.

Quite the contrary: they were to assert more dominance on the match through the simplest of second goals. A corner floated in evaded all players but not Costa’s thigh, as the Spaniard bundled the ball into the back of the net from three yards out.

In the run-up to the match, the 28-year-old had scored in 54% of his Premier League appearances, a higher proportion than any other player to feature in at least 20 matches. Costa also only needed two goals to reach the 50 Premier League goals mark, a club he is only one shy of now.

That feat was nearly realised moments later, when a smart swivel inside the penalty area brought about a dangerous chance, and whilst he got his shot away with his left foot, Randolph was equal to it and the wait for Costa would have to go on.

Alonso had an opportunity prior to that, but Conte had seen enough and was keen to preserve; Matic and Zouma soon came on for the final quarter of an hour.

That did not stop Lanzini striking firmly — and scoring — against Courtois in the dying minutes though, with Chelsea denied their first clean sheet in five league outings, but the Blues’ attentions now turn to the FA Cup, and Manchester United no less, after another solid Premier League outing.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

EDEN HAZARD: We all know on his day this man is lethal, and tonight was one of those. Broke the deadlock with an excellent goal with Pedro, but his constant running, drifting in, weaving out, confused the West Ham defence as they struggled to main the Belgian in real form. The man shows great composure and it is surely this, along with his quality, that will help Chelsea to the Premier League title. 8/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte was pleased with the manner of the win: “I think we played a good game. We controlled the game. It is a pity for the goal we conceded at the end. To give away a clean sheet at the end is not good. We must improve in this situation. But I’m pleased. We showed great concentration and commitment and will to win.”

Bilic was resigned: “They deserved to beat us. It is very simple. If you want to beat Chelsea then you have to hope for their mistakes and use them. They look serious, for me they are not going to lose [the title]. I can’t see them being casual.”

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea secure nervy 3-1 win against Swansea as Fabregas shines in rare start

Match Summary

Chelsea go 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League table after a nervy 3-1 win against a resurgent Swansea City.

Fabregas opened the scoring before Llorente equalised on the stroke of half-time, but it took the hosts a while to put the game to bed before Pedro and Costa wrapped things up in the final 20 minutes.

Swansea have only won one of 11 previous Premier League games against Chelsea, whilst the Antonio Conte’s Blues had won 14 of their 15 home matches, but the game hinged on a controversial call with the game delicately poised at 1-1 when Cesar Azpilicueta looked like he handled the ball in the area.

Regardless, Conte will not care one bit as his side go marching on, with second-placed Manchester City not playing their match in hand this weekend.

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It was a fast Chelsea start and all blue for the opening 25 minutes. Pedro, who holds the record for this season’s fastest goal scored with his opener against Manchester United after 30 seconds, nearly recorded another quickfire goal in the opening minute, finding his way through the Swansea back-line.

Bar the odd chance for Fernandez from a Sigurdsson corner, which woke Luiz up as the Brazilian forgot his marking duties, most of the play was at the other end.

A Hazard counter saw Costa flank him on the right and Alonso support on the left, but whilst Alonso was in more better space, the Belgian opted to find the striker’s feet, who let him down, dallied too long and eventually took the ball out for a goal-kick.

Hazard then took matters into his own hands, cutting inside but was closed down, before Fabregas tried his luck from the ricochet but it was blocked legitimately, despite hitting the arm of a Swansea defender in the melee.

Fabregas was justifying his inclusion in the starting XI already with his quarterback-style passing, but it got a whole lot better after 19 minutes when he bundled the ball into the back of the net on his 300th Premier League appearance, the first Spaniard to reach this mark, and what a way to celebrate the feat.

Pedro did most of the hard work on the right and could feed either Fabregas or Costa on the edge of the box. Midfielder got in front of the striker, much to Costa’s annoyance, but it was short-lived as two touches later Fabregas cleverly bundled the ball from underneath his feet to pass Fabianski.

The Swans have only kept two clean sheets in their last 31 Premier League away games, and the goal did not help their visible shaking.

Costa was fortunately to get away with a handball before he had a shot, and when Moses kept the ball in play, Fabregas hit the ball into the ground and it looked destined to loop over into the net but Fabianski clawed away superbly.

The full-back pairing Olsson and Naugthon both soon picked up yellow cards for cynical lystopping Hazard and Moses respectively from countering, and from the ensuing Fabregas corner, Cahill and Costa both got in each other’s way as the presentable opportunity faded.

Then nearly came a quite superb solo goal by Pedro. Picking the ball up from within his own half, the Spaniard jinxed his way past seven Swansea men, but just as he was about to pull the trigger a last-ditch block forced a corner instead.

With one injury time added by fourth official Lee Probert, but nearly two played, referee Neil Swarbrick awarded a soft free-kick from which Chelsea paid, but nothing could be taken away from the execution. A floated ball by Sigurdsson saw Llorente, who Conte managed at Juventus, rise tallest and evade Moses, as Courtois was rooted to the spot.

The Icelandic midfielder has now been directly involved in 17 Premier League goals this season, more than any other midfielder, and it meant Chelsea have now conceded a goal in four consecutive league matches for the first time this season, as they had to settle for going into the break honours even.

Would the second half provide more entertainment?

Hazard was early to sting the hands of Fabianski, whilst Fabregas was proving to be a menace all day and whacked the crossbar after taking a shot first time from the edge of the penalty area.

Azpilicueta was one lucky man to get away with a handball appeal, whilst Neil Swarbrick was equally unmoved when Costa went down in the penalty area at the other end, although the crime committed at this end was much less obvious.

They say luck balances itself out, but a penny for Paul Clement’s thoughts as, in this game at least, Chelsea edged their noses in front straight after. Fabregas this time turned provider, with Pedro the goalscorer, curling one in with his left foot, despite it being a save you would have expected Fabianski to make.

Diego Costa has scored seven goals in his four Premier League games against Swansea so it was not too long to wait before he joined the fun and games, finishing off proceedings after an excellent assist by Hazard, as Chelsea go marching on 11 points clear.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

cesc-fabregas-thumbnailCESC FABREGAS: The man has not had much of a look-in in Conte’s settled Chelsea side, but whenever called upon the Spaniard always delivers. Under the watchful eye of Frank Lampard, Fabregas, on his 300th Premier League appearance, delivered a midfield masterclass Lampard would have been proud of, as he guided his side to three points with a goal and an assist, and an all-round big influence on the game. 8/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte felt overall his side deserved the win: “For sure we dominated the game. We played very well, it was a good performance and we created many chances to score. Now it is important to continue in this way. To look at ourselves and to think to win, to continue with great focus and concentration.”

Clement knew his side was on the end of some bad luck: “There was a big moment with the handball [by Cesar Azpilicueta at 1-1]. That gives you a chance to go 2-1 up with a penalty but three minutes later you’re 2-1 down after a soft goal. Based on chances they deserved to win, but that was a big moment that did not go our way, and who knows what might have happened?”

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea set up quarter-final date with Manchester United after seeing aside Wolves 2-0

Match Summary

Chelsea dispatched Wolverhampton Wanderers, albeit not easily, in the FA Cup Fifth Round to set up a quarter-final date with Manchester United.

Late goals by Pedro and Diego Costa saw off a determined Wolves side who more than gave the Premier League leaders a run for their money, but the Blues prevailed and will welcome back ex-manager Jose Mourinho in three week’s time, knowing a win there will set up Antonio Conte’s first date with Wembley.

Still, the job needed doing in the West Midlands first in front of a 30,000-strong crowd, the largest Wolves attendance for more than three decades, who kept Chelsea waiting until the 64th minute before breaking the deadlock, and the 89th before securing the win, much to Conte’s relief.

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With no mid-week European travels for Antonio Conte to contend with this season, the FA Cup can be kept high in the Italian’s agenda, as demonstrated by a formidable starting line-up which boasted the likes of Costa, Hazard, Fabregas and Terry. Whilst there was a flurry of youth in Ake and Chalobah, one must feel for Batshuayi, who has been given precious little game-time for a £33 million buy last summer.

But despite all the talk about who would be spearheading Chelsea’s attack, the first notable attack came at Chelsea’s rear end. Zouma’s clearance landed at the feet of former Chelsea youth player George Saville, who made perfect contact with the ball but, with his weaker left foot, lacked the accuracy as the ball crashed back off the post with Begovic well beaten. It was a glorious chance, and the post was still shaking for minutes afterwards.

The last time these sides met was in 2012 in the League Cup where Chelsea dished up a 6-0 lesson, but tonight’s game was anything but a walk-over and the frenetic start — Weimann had a shot moments later also — should have served as enough warning for the visitors, who started to get in the mood soon after.

Fabregas pinged a delicious ball over the top of the Wolves defence and Willian controlled well, but his attempted lob of the goalkeeper was not to fool Ikeme who got a hand on it.

The same man Willian nearly caught himself in a spot of bother when helping out his wing-back Victor Moses at the other end, brushing aside Weimann a little clumsily, if legitimately, in the eyes of Jonathan Moss.

Costa — Wolves’ Helder Costa — then had the game’s next opening, testing the Chelsea back-line and Begovic, in what was a very tough opening 20 minutes for the Blues with the hosts well on top.

Wolves really needed to convert their chances, none more so than from an excellent Dougherty cross, but Bodvarsson was inaccurate in his heading.

Costa had a half-chance on the stroke of half-time — on the volley with his back to goal — but the Blues needed to step things up in the second half to avoid an FA Cup upset, and it was not going to come through long-range Zouma drives which landed closer to Row Z than the back of the net.

Thankfully, it was another one of the Chelsea back-line who would get Chelsea up and running: Pedro. The position of left wing-back almost does the magic Spaniard a disservice, such is his attacking prowess and ability to leave defenders flat-footed, but despite a more reserved role this evening partnered next to Ake, the 29-year-old took it upon himself to break the deadlock.

Fabregas floated a ball over to Costa, whose control was clean but took him further away from goal down the right wing. A short cut-back to Hazard opened up play for Willian, who spotted Pedro cutting in from the left-wing. The Brazilian’s cross-field ball was inch-perfect and Pedro, now in and around the penalty spot, evaded all defenders and headed home expertly to preserve his record of having scored in every FA Cup round so far.

Moments before that it looked like Chelsea would rue Costa hitting the side netting when presented with a glorious opportunity, but Pedro made amends for his compatriot.

Conte was getting nervy and Azpilicueta and Kante came on to shore up the Chelsea defence as the game entered the last 20 minutes, but in the last one minute Chelsea’s lead would double.

The ball was well worked by Fabregas and Kante and, after fortuitously bouncing off a Wolves defender into the path of Costa, the Spaniard took it in his stride to sweep home.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

cesc-fabregas-thumbnailCESC FABREGAS: The magician is not getting much game time in Conte’s settled — and winning — formula with a Matic and Kante pairing in the middle of the park, but when he does get his opportunity boy does the Spaniard look at ease. Effortless passing and reading of the game and yet still only a periphery player just shows the embarrassment of talent Chelsea possess, but Fabregas is always a man Conte can rely on. 7/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte was relieved: “A very difficult game but we all knew this. We had many chances but this is the FA Cup. The results this afternoon show there is no easy games. Don’t forget, I changed seven players. It is good to have a good answer from the players who are not playing a lot. We showed great commitment to fight, to win and to continue in this competition.”

Lambert was proud of his Championship side: “I could not ask for any more. The game plan was unbelievably performed and we were up against a world-class side. Not just class, world-class. They have won Champion Leagues, so many honours, but we gave it a good go.”

 

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Costa returns with a goal as Chelsea earn hard-fought 2-0 victory against Hull

Match Summary

Chelsea go eight points clear at the top of the table after a hard-fought 2-0 win against Hull City.

The Blues, who won the reverse fixture also by 2-0, will hope fortunes after similar to that match in October, where the Blues then went on to win 13 matches in a row having switched to a 3-4-3.

And after seeing title rivals Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United all drop points this weekend, it was the perfect opportunity for Conte’s men to extend their lead at the summit of the Premier League.

Diego Costa broke the deadlock deep into first-half injury time to silence his critics of recent weeks, whilst Cahill wrapped up the points late into the second half as the Blues record their 13th clean sheet of the season.

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Chelsea have won their last seven at home, whilst Hull have lost their last eight league games away, and whilst anyone would be forgiven for thinking this may be a walk in the park, it was anything but.

The reverse fixture sparked a Chelsea revival after bitter losses to Liverpool and Arsenal, with the Blues winning 14 of the 15 Premier League matches after that with this new-look 3-4-3 formation, and it was clear the Blues were keen to spark another good run, with Costa firing just wide after only 15 seconds.

It was the Spaniard’s 100th Chelsea appearance and, after a week of intense media speculation about his future in SW6, it was evident the Spaniard was intent to let his feet do the talking now he was back in the squad.

Hull have been on a mini-revival themselves under new coach Marco Silva, and Huddlestone nearly continued that in the eighth minute with a weaving run and fine strike from 20 yards out.

A lengthy stoppage then ensued when Mason and Cahill clashed heads — the former coming off worse — and play was stopped for some nine minutes and Mason was eventually substituted.

Maguire has proven very capable with his feet and a mazy run from him brought about a good corner kick opportunity, but nothing doing.

Marcos Alonso then looked to continue where he left off after last week’s brace against Leicester with a fizzing volley that took a wicked deflection off the Hull back-line but was eventually tipped over. The Spaniard then combined neatly with Eden Hazard but, once the Belgian got to the by-line, he could do nothing further with the ball and the action petered out.

Pedro was clumsily hacked down inside the penalty area but Swarbrick was unmoved as a Hull’s goal was under siege as Luiz also went close with a header, but the hosts opted to walk the ball into the net which saw spaces crowded out.

One man who did have the ball in the net was Costa, but he was adjudged offside. The call was marginal.

But the 28-year-old would not be denied for much longer. Moses was proving to be a handful down the right wing and he squared a ball to a totally free Diego Costa, who swept home from 10 yards in the seventh minute of nine injury time minutes added on. Hull have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last 19 Premier League matches, and it was not about to stop here.

It was a sucker-punch to Hull’s game but they came out reinvigorated in the second half. Meyler stung Courtois’ hands, whilst Alonso nearly turned sinner by nearly fouling a Hull player in the box. Swarbrick was again equally unmoved.

1-0 was not a safe scoreline and Chelsea were not content to sit on the fragile scoreline. Costa had three shots in a row all smothered by the defence of Hull, but danger signs were ringing when Dawson was totally free at the back-post to drive a shot at Courtois’ goal.

Fabregas came on for an ineffective Hazard to shore matters up, but he added more than defensive solidity by popping up with his 31st league assist for Chelsea from a free-kick. The Spaniard swung in a delicious ball and Gary Cahill was totally unmarked to nod it past Jakupovic. Chelsea have scored 47 league goals this season, but this was only the fourth headed goal, a far cry from Chelsea of yesteryear with the likes of Terry, Ivanovic, Cahill and Drogba all nodding it in and epitomising the new Chelsea’s desire to play with the feet.

The Blues have kept 12 Premier League clean sheets this season, more than any other side and no team in Europe’s top five leagues has kept more, and so preserving it was undoubtedly at the top of the agenda now the points looked to be secured. In truth it could have been secured more handosmely had Costa shot more accurately, or indeed squared to a free Willian, from an excellent Fabregas through-ball, but Conte will take the victory in a weekend where most title challengers dropped points.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

diego-costa-thumbnailDIEGO COSTA: No real Chelsea player stole the limelight today, but given recent surroundings of Costa, would the media speculation of him going to China influence his performance negatively? Even though he was not at his most sharp, the Spaniard still knew where to pop up and when, breaking the deadlock deep into first-half injury time that set his side off and a large part of Chelsea’s eight-point lead at the top of the table is down to this man. 7/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte expects a tougher 2017: “This game was very difficult for us. It is not easy to play this type of game. I think our opponent played very good, good organisation and made it difficult for us. We are in the second part of the season and every game is now very tough for us and also for the other teams. You can see today the difficulty all of the teams have.”

Silva was motivational: “It was not what we wanted from the game. We came here to compete, to take points. In some moments we controlled the game. It was a good performance but I want more.”

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea beat Stoke 4-2 in New Year’s Eve spectacular

Match Summary

Chelsea build up a nine-point lead at the top of the Premier League table with a hard-fought 4-2 victory against Stoke as the fans witness a six-goal New Year’s Eve thriller.

Cahill broke the deadlock for the hosts in the first half, but Martins Indi, and later Crouch when Willian gave Chelsea the advantage again, both pegged the hosts back. In the end, another Willian goal and a Costa strike settled the points in Chelsea’s favour.

It means the Blues have now won 13 Premier League matches on the bounce, one shy of Arsenal’s Premier League record set in 2001-02, and Conte will hope the winning form continues into the new year, despite tougher tests against Tottenham, Leicester and Liverpool to come in the first month of 2017 alone.

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Chelsea did not beat Stoke in either of the two league games last season, and so to prolong the club-record winning streak — the Blues’ tally of 46 points after 18 games is the second highest in Premier League history, bettered only by the same club’s 49-point haul in 2005-06 — was not going to be a procession.

The dogged and determined side of Stoke was apparent from the off. Bar the odd half-chance, the opening became a tactical battle in the middle of the park. Kante dragged a shot wide before it was pinball in the Stoke penalty area, with Fabregas’ cross-field ball controlled beautifully by Costa, who got his shot away only for it to be acrobatically saved by Lee Grant, who also managed to hold onto the rebound.

Cahill then had a header saved from a Fabregas corner, and whilst this time it proved fruitless, the next combining of these two players proved much more fruitful.

A 90-yard Luiz ball to Costa was quite superb, with the Spaniard’s shot smothered by Grant, who then made a double-save to deny Hazard’s follow-up. The ensuing corner though brought about the goal, with Fabregas’ again finding Cahill and this time Cahill finding the back of the net.

The game could have been quite different had Charlie Adam done much better from a Stoke corner moments before the goal, heading wide from a Shaqiri corner with the goal gaping.

However it remained the one-goal advantage going into the break, but whatever Mark Hughes said at half-time clearly paid off as it was all square within a minute of the restart.

Adam fed a delightful upfield ball to Crouch, to towered above Cahill to square to Martins Indi to tap in with his left foot. The Blues have kept 10 clean sheets during their current club record 12-match winning streak, conceding just two goals and scoring 28, but there was to be no clean sheet here.

Morever, there appeared to be a very real chance the record was to be stopped unless Chelsea could get their noses in front again.

Fabregas again had another opportunity to swing the ball in from a corner, and after Moses slalomed his way through a multitude of Stoke players, the ball fell for Willian to side-foot, but the Brazilian hit the ball wide. It was a great opportunity.

Fret not as on the 57th minute Willian did score, and what a great team goal it was. Moses had not been having much luck on the right against Pieters, but after dummying his opponent and flooring the giant Dutchman, Moses squared to Hazard, who cushioned the ball to Willian to blast home.

It should have been three had Hazard done better at capitalising on a sloppy Johnson pass, or indeed later from a sloppy Crouch pass, but with Mark Hughes sending on Bojan and Imbula just after the hour mark, you sensed things were heating up a notch.

Costa failed to dig the ball out of his feet after great link-up play between him and Hazard, but one man who did manage to dig up a goal, his first in 22 appearances, was Peter Crouch, sidefooting home after Stoke broke down Chelsea’s left. It was a sloppy goal for Chelsea to concede against their former ball-boy, and once again Chelsea were pegged back.

But within 75 seconds, the hosts were again in front, and it was that man Willian again. The Blues raced forward and Fabregas, with his 100th Premier League assist, laid on a beautiful ball to Willian, who aimed high so Lee Grant could not reach it. It was raining goals at Stamford Bridge.

Costa should have made things comfortable after running the full length of the pitch to get onto the end of a Hazard tee-up, whilst Conte opted to shore up proceedings by sending on Ivanovic and Chalobah, and rightly so as two tough crosses kept Chelsea alert at the back, with Azpilicueta doing superbly to get a toe-poke on a Johnson cross before it looked set to reach Crouch and hit the back of the net.

In the end Costa had the final say, creating a goal from quite nothing. A throw-in found the Spaniard with his back to goal, but he bullied Martins Indi out of it and, from a tight angle, unleashed a quite superb shot that flew into the back of the net, and sent Conte flying into the crowd.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

willian-thumbnailWILLIAN: The man may have fallen down the pecking order under Antonio Conte with the rightful resurgence of Pedro, but the Brazilian does not half give himself a good shift when he does play. Time will tell if Conte wants to shift his line-up but with more performances like this, high energy, quick turns of pace and lethal finishes, not to mention excellent set-pieces, the Brazilian will be giving his manager headaches. Took his two goals superbly today and relieved the pressure on his side at exactly the right moments. 8/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte was thrilled his side could adapt to a different type of winning: “My players showed they can adapt to the different kinds of game we face. They showed great commitment, work-rate and will to win. To win 13 games in a row in this league is very difficult. Stoke played very well. They hit long balls to Crouch and fought for the second ball.”

Hughes rued his side’s mistakes: “We got back level, but then conceded poor goals. We’ve made mistakes and good teams punish you. I thought we did really well, showing courage to get back in the game.”

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.