Chelsea have a huge chance to go to the top of the table after Liverpool drew with Southampton on Saturday. Chelsea need three points for that to happen, and the Blues are favourite as they prepare to face Middlesbrough at Riverside Stadium on Sunday.
But Antonio Conte and his men cannot afford to take Middlesbrough lightly, as there is very little room for error in the Premier League. Chelsea must be aware of that and they will be eager to start the Premier League on the front foot after the international break.
Though there were few concerns about some of the key Chelsea stars for the clash, Conte has received some good news ahead of the clash. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are both available for selection despite some minor problems.
Conte will not want to keep their star players on the bench as the duo has been in sparkling form in the Premier League so far. Costa has scored nine goals, while Hazard has found the back of the net seven times. It is such incredible form that has helped Chelsea earn the favourites tag, even more so, after their recent performances.
Not only are they scoring goals, Chelsea are not conceding goals as well. This makes them a formidable team, and some credit must go to Conte, who has started to use his preferred three defenders at the back. But Chelsea must be aware of Middlesbrough, who have been impressive against big teams like Arsenal and Manchester City. Middlesbrough picked one point each in both the contest. The manager also praised his striker Costa for his goal-scoring ability.
"We are working to find the right concentration and the right focus because on Sunday we know we will have a tough game against a strong team that drew with Arsenal and Manchester City," CFC's official website quoted Conte as saying.
"Diego Costa is a very good player and the same for Eden Hazard, and it is important for me and Diego's team-mates to see him every game working a lot with and without the ball. He is an example for all. If he continues to score I am very happy but I am happier to see this commitment and this work rate in training and in the games. If all the players are able to think this way then we are a very good team, a very tough team."
Middlesbrough, despite their good performances against top teams of late, stand 15th. They have not been consistent in the competition, which has been a concern for the team.
However, their recent draws against City and Gunners must have increased their confidence to shine against Chelsea as well. With these results, they have shown that they can compete against big teams as well.
Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka was all praise for Conte and is aware of the massive challenge ahead of them.
"I have always said the main thing for me is the performances. But the best way to add confidence is to add points to the table. It's not easy to get points away with teams like Arsenal and Manchester City. We have shown we can compete against anyone," Boro's official website quoted Karanka as saying.
"We know they've scored 16 in the last five games and didn't concede one goal. Conte has settled in the league really well and in a few months and his team already have a good shape.I think they are favourites to win the league because they have the advantage of not playing games in Europe. In the future, they will benefit from that. To play against a team like Chelsea, the way they playing is a nice and tough challenge for us."
Middlesbrough will not be able to play with their strong eleven as Daniel Ayala is set to miss the fixture with an ankle problem. However, they will hope to see their star player Gaston Ramirez to deliver as he is returning after a one-match ban.
Where to watch live
Middlesbrough vs Chelsea is set to kick off at 9:30 pm IST [4 pm GMT, 11 am EST]. TV and Live streaming information can be found below.
India: TV - Star Sports Select HD 1. Live streaming - Hotstar
UK: TV - , Sky Sports 1/HD UK. Live streaming - Sky Go
USA: TV - NBC Sports Network. Live streaming - NBC Live
Thailand, Middle East: TV: Bein Sports. Live Streaming: Bein Sports Connect
Australia: TV: Optus Sport. Live Streaming: Optus Online