Chelsea moves within a win of Premier League title after crushing Middlesbrough 3-0

Chelsea has three games remaining in this Premier League season. Each of them are worth three points. But Antonio Conte’s Blues need to win just one of them – or even get three ties – to ensure mathematically that they will win a second English title in three years.

And should second-place Tottenham Hotspur fail to win all of its remaining matches, Chelsea needs to do even less.

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Which is to say that the awarding of the title is a formality now, after Chelsea built out its lead over Spurs to seven points by winning its game in hand 3-0 over Middlesbrough on Monday. Chelsea could clinch the sixth championship in its 112-year history – and a fourth in a dozen years – on Friday at West Bromwich Albion.

What has felt inevitable for much of the season is a few days from becoming official. Chelsea has led the league without interruption since Nov. 5. And while Spurs momentarily posed a threat by cutting the gap from 10 points to four, their loss to West Ham United last Friday put an end to all that noise.

Antonio Conte has the Blues on the cusp of another Premier League crown. (AP Photo)

Because even though Chelsea suffered two losses in four league games in the first half of April, the Londoners, unencumbered by a European campaign after a disastrous season last year, never looked uncomfortable.

Just as the Blues didn’t against Middlesborough, which was officially relegated with the loss. Chelsea could have won by double the score, had it not been for the woodwork surrounding United States national team goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who had as rough an afternoon as his teammates.

The frame twice prevented further Chelsea goals. But the three that did go in all traveled through the legs of Guzan, who will join Atlanta United in his return to Major League Soccer after a second straight relegation with a Premier League team, after last year’s demotion with Aston Villa.

In just the second minute, Marcos Alonso volleyed a ball into the ground that Guzan actually saved well, sending the ball caroming off the underside of the bar.

Chelsea’s attacking talisman Eden Hazard created chances with gusto, attacking ‘Boro’s fickle defense from every angle. He rolled a teasing ball across the box for Diego Costa, but the moody striker was defended well by George Friend and prevented from scoring.

But in the 23rd minute, Cesc Fabregas, who would pull the strings all night, popped one of an endless sequence of diagonal balls over the top to trouble the Middlesbrough defense. There, he found Costa, who brought it down over Fabio and coolly beat Guzan through his legs.

It was one-way traffic all game. In the 34th minute, yet another diagonal ball, from Cesar Azpilicueta this time, dropped over the top behind Fabio – again. Alonso whacked it across and it dinked off Guzan’s leg and into the net. It was not adjudged to have been an own goal – by rule, it only would if the shot was off target – but it was close.

Just after halftime, Pedro pinged a long shot off the bar. And then Alonso hit a low ball at the far post, where he missed both Costa’s outstretched leg and the goal.

In the 65th minute, Hazard started another attack. Chelsea had all the time and space in the world in the ‘Boro box and, eventually, Nemanja Matic smacked in the third. Again, through Guzan’s legs.

It was a very Chelsea win, emblematic of the club’s 2016-17 vintage. Efficient. Energetic. Emphatic.

After the final whistle sealed their fate, the Middlesbrough players went to applaud their loyal fans. Conte followed their lead, and then went on a lap around the stadium shaking hands and taking selfies with fans.

This was indeed his night. As there have been many nights and afternoons that were his this season. The fiery Italian has quickly reconstructed a shambolic defending champion, a Chelsea team that fell apart last season under Jose Mourinho.

Chelsea will surely be champions again. And, in large part, it has Conte to thank.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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