Diego Costa fired Chelsea to the top of the Premier League with his tenth goal of the season as Antonio Conte’s men signal their intentions of producing a genuine title challenge.
Chelsea were well worth their one goal win at the Riverside, courtesy of Costa’s strike after the home side had failed to deal with a corner, and Conte will have been delighted with a sixth consecutive league victory. Meanwhile, Middlesbrough will have been relatively content with their overall performance but lack a decisive cutting edge in the final third and defeat means that their three game unbeaten run has now been ended.
Here are three things that we learnt from Sunday’s contest at the Riverside.
Defensive superiority is key to Conte’s success
Chelsea have gone under the radar somewhat this season in terms of being recognised as a genuine title challenging force by the majority of the sporting press. Whilst pundits and reporters have fawned, quite rightly, over the attacking performances of Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte’s side appeared to have been written off by many after a dismal three goal defeat at the Emirates Stadium in September. Yet since that contest Chelsea have won all of their following six Premier League games and, more significantly, have not conceded a single goal in that period.
Whilst Jurgen Klopp promotes a “we will outscore you” mentality at Anfield, Conte has taken a slightly different approach and has built a defensive wall that Donald Trump would be proud of. The Italian has reverted to his favoured three at the back, (he adopted a defensive back four at the start of the season), and the solid foundations being provided by John Terry, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta have allowed Chelsea’s more offensive talents to flourish whilst Marcus Alonso and Victor Moses have been re-enthused in their new wing-back roles.
Chelsea currently look impregnable in the Premier League and their rise to the summit reflects impressively on both Conte and the squad of players that he has assembled. It is easy to forget that this is a Chelsea side that finished in mid-table last season. However, they now face Tottenham and Manchester City in back-to-back fixtures that will probably be a more accurate measure of their improvement under the Italian than a relatively straight forward win over Middlesbrough.