The Riverside will host a battle with permutations at both ends of the table on Sunday, as Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough, unbeaten in three yet 15th in the Premier League, face off against Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, who are flying high in second. Chelsea will resume league action following the international break after a comprehensive home win over Everton, whilst the ‘Boro have their own encouraging result from which to draw confidence ahead of this one, after an impressive 1-1 draw with Manchester City at the Etihad.
Hosts Middlesbrough only have one win in five, a 2-0 home triumph over Bournemouth a fortnight before the international break. They are however unbeaten in three, with their most recent result being a creditable draw away from home against Manchester City. They will need to be at their best to take anything from the Blues however, they haven’t scored against the West London outfit in their last six encounters.
Chelsea’s last defeat came in a 3-0 humbling at the Emirates against Arsenal, but since then they haven’t looked back, winning five on the bounce including a 5-0 triumph over Everton at Stamford Bridge the week before the international break. Antonio Conte’s tactical switch to 3-4-3 seems to have breathed new life into Chelsea, and they will be optimistic of adding another win to their impressive run, having beaten Sunday’s opponents in each of their last six encounters.
Aitor Karanka is expected to retain the same 4-5-1 formation which has enabled his Middlesbrough side to take points from Arsenal and Manchester City in recent weeks. Calum Chambers is expected to keep his place at centre-half alongside Ben Gibson following injury to Daniel Ayala, with Gaston Ramirez occupying a place on the left of midfield, with fellow livewire Adama Traoré on the right side and Marten de Roon, Adam Forshaw and Adam Clayton occupying the midfield behind lone forward Alvaro Negredo.
Chelsea should persist with the same side that has yielded five wins in five, with Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill making up the back three in Conte’s formation. Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kanté should make up the centre midfield, flanked by Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses, with Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Pedro featuring in a potent front three.
Middlesbrough predicted starting XI Chelsea predicted starting XI
For Middlesbrough, Daniel Ayala is out through injury and James Husband is still lacking match fitness. George Friend is a doubt at left-back following a training injury, but should make it through to feature in defence. Gaston Ramirez, suspended for the draw at Manchester City, returns.
For visitors Chelsea, Marko Van Ginkel and Kurt Zouma are nearing returns following injury. Diego Costa was withdrawn from the Spain squad for the international break with a groin problem but is expected to start on Sunday. Eden Hazard was a forced withdrawal in Belgium’s final qualifier over the international break against Estonia but should be fit for this one, whilst Cesc Fabregas and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are the only other fitness concerns for Antonio Conte’s side.
Middlesbrough are expected to stick with the same 4-5-1 formation that has earned them impressive draws against Arsenal and Manchester City. Chelsea however have had new life breathed into them since switching to 3-4-3 and it will take a monumental effort from the ‘Boro to take maximum points from the Blues. The fact Eden Hazard and Diego Costa come into the fixture with slight knocks could favour them however.
The two sides last met in 2013, but Chelsea have took the spoils in their last six meetings and haven’t conceded a goal in any of those matches. Middlesbrough in fact haven’t managed a goal against Chelsea in ten years, when they managed a 2-1 win over the Londoners in 2006. Conte’s side should have too much for the hosts to handle here, and we fancy the visitors to come away with a 2-0 win. Middlesbrough 0-2 Chelsea.
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