If ever there was two teams that did not want the international break to come, it has to be Middlesbrough and Chelsea.
The Boro got up a very nice head of steam prior to the break, with a comfortable win over Bournemouth sandwiched in-between fine points at Arsenal and Manchester City. Aitor Karanka’s men were playing with a lovely freedom, and the Spaniard will be hoping his side can burst out of the traps in the same vein on Sunday.
Chelsea….well, you probably know the story there. In one of the most publicised tactical decisions in world football, Antonio Conte switched to his preferred 3-4-3 formation after growing tired of his charges’ defensive woes. The result: W5 D0 L0 GF16 GA0.
The Italian may have to do without top goalscorer Diego Costa however, who aggravated a groin injury while away on international duty, and he is also sweating on the fitness of Eden Hazard, who is said to be ‘50/50’ for this one.
So can the North East club bring an end to Chelsea’s winning streak?
The Boro have been rather inconsistent at the Riverside Stadium this term, with that 2-0 triumph over Bournemouth their solitary win on home soil thus far. Defeats to Watford, Crystal Palace and Tottenham, plus a draw with Stoke, would suggest they deserve their status as relegation candidates.
But the manner of their performances before the lay-off caught the eye, and suggest that – rather prematurely it has to be said – Karanka’s side have finally taken to life in the top flight. They had less of the ball against Arsenal but created the better chances, with the raw pace of Adama Traore proving to be a real headache. The win over Bournemouth was richly deserved, and against Manchester City they were excellent defensively before nicking an injury time equaliser. They are capable of giving Chelsea a tough afternoon’s work here.
The Blues will certainly miss Costa if he is unavailable – the Spaniard has netted in four of five since the tactical switch, but in that time the Blues have netted 75% of their goals from other sources, so it certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world if Michy Batshuayi was brought in for his first Premier League start.
The hosts have been poor at home this term, and the international break will surely halt the momentum of their excellent recent run. Chelsea just look unbeatable at the moment: Costa or no Costa.
As such, we would normally back the Blues to win, but at 4/7 they just can’t be considered good value. So how about the Middlesbrough +1 Asian Handicap at 9/10 with bet365? We will have our stake refunded if Chelsea win by a solitary goal.
The Boro have operated in a more defensive manner in recent weeks and it shows; their last five have witnessed fewer than three goals, while they kept a clean sheet at the Emirates Stadium and conceded one at the home of net-busting antics: the City of Manchester Stadium.
With Chelsea’s number nine a potential absentee, the recently free-scoring Blues may find their edge blunted somewhat. As such, the Under 2.5 Goal mark at 10/11 with William Hill look a must back.
We mentioned earlier about the pace and trickery of Middlesbrough’s right winger Adama Traore, and his free running style is a nightmare for defenders to operate against. His marker here will be Marcos Alonso; a Spaniard that has amassed 35 career yellow cards and is averaging 1.5 fouls per 90 minutes this season.
At the time of writing, the only firm offering a price on Alonso to be carded was Unibet at 5/2, but closer to Sunday more bookies will be quoting odds so keep your eyes peeled.