Chelsea moved to within one win of the Premier League title and confirmed Middlesbrough’s relegation with a consummate performance and emphatic victory at Stamford Bridge.
Antonio Conte’s side can become champions with victory against West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns on Friday night while Middlesbrough must contemplate a future back in the Championship after they were swept aside on Monday.
The Blues had already created a succession of chances before Diego Costa turned in man of the match Cesc Fabregas’ pass after 23 minutes.
And the contest was effectively over when Marcos Alonso scored at the far post via the legs of Middlesbrough keeper Brad Guzan 11 minutes before the break.
Fabregas created Chelsea’s third which Nemanja Matic converted as the hosts laid siege to Boro’s goal, with the final whistle bringing contrasting emotions.
Chelsea on the brink of glory
In this mood it is hard to see the league title coming from anywhere other than at West Brom on Friday night.
Baggies manager Tony Pulis was watching from the stand at Stamford Bridge and will have gone away with plenty of food for thought after a Chelsea display that oozed class and intent.
Middlesbrough – downhearted, defeated and on their way back to the Championship – were little more than cannon fodder here.
From the opening moments when Guzan turned Alonso’s shot on to the bar, Chelsea were rampant, nerveless and played with the swagger, poise and menace of the best team in the Premier League.
Chelsea’s nerves may have shown momentarily in those defeats at home to Crystal Palace and at Manchester United in April, but the response has been magnificent, reeling off wins in the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham and in the Premier League against Southampton, Everton and now Middlesbrough.
It is a question of when, rather than if the ebullient, effervescent Conte claims the title in his first season in England – and Chelsea will be fully deserved champions.
Fabregas shows touches of genius
Chelsea’s fans talk about Fabregas wearing a “magic hat”, but all the magic was in his boots as he picked the visitors apart here at Stamford Bridge.
The 30-year-old was a key purchase from Barcelona when Jose Mourinho brought the title back to Chelsea to two seasons ago. But this season he will be a different kind of title-winner.
The signing of N’Golo Kante from Leicester City and Chelsea’s subsequent success has meant Fabregas, who would have been first choice in almost every other Premier League side, has been marginalised and unable to claim a regular place.
When he has, however, the Spain midfielder has shown the class and quality that has made him one of the game’s enduring talents in the recent era.
Fabregas stepped in here for the injured Kante and gave a midfield masterclass, and when he created Chelsea’s opener for Costa he became the first player to record 10 Premier League assists in six different seasons.
He also created Chelsea’s third for Matic with a glorious instinctive flick that unlocked Middlesbrough again.
Fabregas may wish to seek more regular first team football elsewhere despite being on course to claim another Premier League title winners’ medal – and on this evidence there will be no shortage of takers.
Middlesbrough go down without a fight
Middlesbrough knew they were fighting against all the odds to try and avoid the defeat that would send them back into the Championship – and it was a battle they never looked like winning.
They were on the back foot from the first whistle and were simply overwhelmed by a Chelsea side who would not be denied. The Middlesbrough fans, who were stoic throughout, were applauded by Conte after the final whistle.
The feeling will remain that Middlesbrough have simply come and gone without contributing a great deal to this Premier League season. Could they have been bolder in pursuit of survival?
Boro have proved stubborn in defence on many occasions but have been totally undermined by a failure to score goals – and a failure to cure that obvious problem.
Aitor Karanka, the man who brought Middlesbrough up but who left in March as the decline started to accelerate, was backed by chairman Steve Gibson in January but his attacking purchases were never going to provide the answer.
Rudy Gestede arrived from Aston Villa and Patrick Bamford from Chelsea, but neither are of Premier League quality and the price was paid with relegation.
Middlesbrough look to currently have a good squad for the Championship – but this was a horribly tame end to their Premier League ambitions.
Man of the match – Cesc Fabregas
‘The fans deserve Premier League football’ – What the managers said
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte: “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.”
Middlesbrough boss Steve Agnew: “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.
“I have just left a very silent dressing room.
“We haven’t had enough wins and that’s the key to the whole thing. Scoring goals wins football matches and we haven’t done that enough this season.
“I have to say the fans all season have been outstanding – home and away has been top class and the least they deserve is Premier League football.”
Boro make it four relegations – the stats
- Chelsea have become the third club to win 300 Premier League home games, after Manchester United (347) and Arsenal (306)
- Middlesbrough have been relegated from the Premier League for the fourth time – no side has suffered the drop more often since its inception [level with Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Sunderland]
- Diego Costa became the third player to score 20+ goals in a Premier League season for Chelsea on two occasions [Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in 2000-01 & 2001-02 and Didier Drogba in 2006-07 & 2009-10]
- Costa has also scored the opening goal of a Premier League game on seven occasions this season – no other player has done so more
- Middlesbrough have failed to score in 11 Premier League away games this season, more than any other side in the division
Chelsea will win the title if they beat West Brom on Friday. Even if they do not, they have two more opportunities to wrap up the title against Watford and Sunderland at home.
Middlesbrough will finish life in the Premier League by hosting Southampton on Saturday before going to Liverpool on Sunday, 21 May.