London (AFP) – Cesc Fabregas sparkled as Chelsea moved to within touching distance of the Premier League title and condemned Middlesbrough to relegation with a breezy 3-0 home win on Monday.
Fabregas made sure Chelsea capitalised on Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-0 defeat at West Ham United on Friday by supplying assists for Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic, with Marcos Alonso also finding the net.
It left Chelsea seven points clear of Spurs at the summit and means they will be crowned champions for the second time in three seasons if they win at West Bromwich Albion on Friday.
Should they fail to take maximum points at The Hawthorns, subsequent home games against Watford and relegated Sunderland mean Antonio Conte’s side have plenty of margin for error.
Fabregas has now set up 10 or more goals in six different English top-flight seasons — a record in the Premier League era.
Boro return to the Championship after one season back among the elite, joining Sunderland in sinking into the second tier just as fellow northeast side Newcastle United are celebrating their return to the top level.
Chelsea were missing N’Golo Kante — named the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year earlier in the day — due to a thigh injury, but the Frenchman’s absence was to prove a blessing in disguise.
It brought Fabregas into the team and the Spaniard immediately set about laying waste to Middlesbrough’s defensive plans with a succession of accurate, strafing passes.
He seemed particularly taken by the space behind Boro right back Fabio da Silva.
Alonso twice received passes from his countryman in that area in the early stages, seeing a half-volley pushed onto the bar by Boro goalkeeper Brad Guzan and then drilling a dangerous cross across goal.
Fabregas side-footed wide from an Eden Hazard cut-back and Costa came within inches of bundling in Hazard’s low cross before the hosts went ahead in the 23rd minute, with Fabregas inevitably the source.
– Little slow-moving traffic –
Fabio, stretching, managed to get his right foot to the former Barcelona midfielder’s chipped pass, but succeeded only in hooking the ball straight at Costa.
The Spain international cushioned the ball and tucked a shot between Guzan’s legs for his 20th goal of the campaign.
Chelsea’s second goal, in the 34th minute, arrived in similar circumstances, instigated by Cesar Azpilicueta’s probing pass from the inside-right channel.
From a prohibitive angle at the back post, Alonso drilled a shot towards goal and saw the ball ricochet of Guzan’s left thigh and bounce into the net.
Fabregas was at it again shortly after with a raking pass that freed Victor Moses, whose shot obliged Guzan to save with his legs.
Boro’s bus had been delayed on its way to the ground, but to their dismay, there was little slow-moving traffic to be found inside Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea resumed their assault on the visitors’ goal in the second half, Pedro grazing the bar from Hazard’s lay-off and Azpilicueta pinging a shot narrowly over.
Costa could only get a couple of studs on a fierce Alonso cross, Gary Cahill almost surprised Guzan with a rasping drive and Fabregas saw a deflected effort bobble agonisingly wide.
The third goal arrived 20 minutes into the second period and owed once again to the inventive brilliance of Fabregas.
His flicked pass was chested down by Matic, who arrowed a low shot between the legs of the overworked Guzan.
200+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, World Cup, Euro 2024 & more
- Includes NBC, USA, FOX, ESPN, CBSSN & more
Live & On Demand TV Streaming
- Price: $69.99/mo. for Entertainment package
- Watch World Cup, Euro 2024 & MLS
- Includes ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 + local channels
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $6.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
- Features Bundesliga, LaLiga, Championship, & more
- Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
2,000+ soccer games per year
- Price: $4.99/mo
- Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & NWSL
- Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
- Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more
- Euro titles ‘no help’ to Mourinho ahead of Conference League final
- Premier League approve Boehly’s takeover of Chelsea
- Premier League board approve Chelsea takeover by Boehly group
- Top 15 US TV markets for Premier League viewership
- England boss Southgate concerned by rise in fan disorder
- Who is the greatest soccer player of all time?
- Spurs make £150m investment as Conte eyes transfer splash
- Real Madrid will keep winning without Mbappe, says Casemiro
- New CEO aims to make Bundesliga world’s ‘most digital league’
- UK government in talks with ‘international partners’ over Chelsea sale