Chelsea made it six wins from six as Diego Costa’s first-half flick was enough to send his side to the summit of the Premier League table for the first time since the Blues became champions two seasons ago.
After morale-boosting 3-0, 4-0 and 5-0 victories in the past few weeks, this was a test of resolve against a side who have held both Arsenal and Manchester City this season, but Costa’s goal, the first man to hit 10 goals this season, was enough in a cagey affair.
Hence the jubilant celebrations from Antonio Conte upon the full-time whistle as his Chelsea side sit pretty at the top of the table, carrying on as they left off before the international break with six wins on the trot and no goals conceded.
It was always going to be tough to re-group a squad full of internationals back again after several days apart around the world, and that proved to be most evident in the opening few minutes, when Ramirez nearly found De Roon, before the ball fell to ex-Manchester City player Alvardo Negredo.
But after the poor opening 5 minutes, Chelsea were finding their rhythm. Normal service was resuming for Hazard, weaving in and out of defenders before getting cynically pulled down in this instance by Clayton.
Good passing and an increase in Chelsea’s gear brought about more openings, none more so than at the half-hour mark, when Hazard and Moses worked a chance to Pedro, but Valdes reacted superbly to deny his former Barcelona team-mate.
Alonso drove forward on more than one occasion, and the pressure finally told on Valdes’ goal in the 41st minute. A Hazard corner was not dealt properly by the hosts and Costa acrobatically pounced as soon as the ball dropped back down from the air.
It was a killer blow to Middlesbrough just before half-time and nearly got worse straight after the re-start when Moses combined well with Alonso to allow the Spaniard to get a shot away, but Valdes dealt with this one better.
Pedro was no luckier with his next big opportunity, having been denied in the first-half by a superb Valdes stop, the Spaniard in this instance beat Valdes but not the bar, as he watched his shot agonisingly cannon off the underside of the crossbar after excellent work by Luiz and Costa.
Moses loves an opportunity to run forward when afforded to him and could have settled nerves had his shot been a little more accurate, and the longer the game progressed still finely-balanced the more the nerves would grow.
Conte sent on Chalobah, Ivanovic and Oscar in an effort to waste time, and so it proved effective, as despite a strong Negredo effort to sting Courtois’ hands, the hosts’ one shot on target was nothing to concern a Chelsea side who continue the winning feeling.
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Man of the Match
VICTOR MOSES: Conte has received all the plaudits for changing Chelsea’s play, but you still need the players to do it so Moses (and Alonso) need huge credit for revolutionising the style of Chelsea’s play, which would only work with the discipline of players like Moses. The Nigerian was quick and strong, and need I say more about his energy other than, despite being a right wing-back, he was the second furthest player up the field (behind Costa)? 7/10
Conte knew he was up against a very smart side: “I knew this game would be difficult because this team is well organised and they are in good form. But we deserved to win because we scored the goal and created many chances for a second goal. We didn’t concede and stopped any opportunity for them to score.”
Karanka knew his side has done well against top-level opposition so far: “After our last performances against Arsenal and Manchester City we were confident and we showed again we can compete against those teams. One mistake punished us.”