Costa strikes to send rock-solid Chelsea top of the league
Blues go clear after winning sixth game in a row and keeping another clean sheet, as Conte's tactics continue to pay off
Middlesbrough 0 Chelsea 1
A goal from Diego Costa four minutes before the break was enough for Chelsea to see off Middlesbrough and move to the top of the Premier League table.
The last time the Blues were in such a position was May 2015, when they won their last title, and if their recent form continues they'll be strong contenders come May. The victory over Boro was their sixth straight win the League, a winning streak made all the more impressive by the fact they haven't conceded a goal during that time.
With Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool all dropping points this month, Chelsea have climbed relentlessly up the table, putting behind them memories of their 3-0 defeat at Arsenal on 24 September.
That was their last league defeat and since then, spared the effort of playing in Europe, Chelsea have been able to keep fresh and keep focused on the Premier League. "Confidence is up in the side and we are playing well," admitted defender Gary Cahill. "We are in a good moment on the training ground and working hard. When you are winning games, it is easy to play."
It's difficult to imagine that after the defeat to Arsenal there was talk that manager Antonio Conte might be sacked. The Italian, brought in during the summer, responded to the 3-0 hammering, by changing his formation to a 3-4-3 system, using Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso as wing-backs and deploying Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta in a defence that has grown in confidence with every passing game.
Up front Costa is in sparkling form and the Spaniard pounced on 41 minutes for his tenth goal of the season, the first player to reach double figures in this season's Premier League.
The win moved Chelsea one point above Liverpool, who were held to a goalless draw at Southampton on Saturday, but Conte was quick to caution the fans not to get carried away.
"I am very proud but we must know we have to continue in this way," said the Italian. "The league doesn't finish today but it's the first time we have led this season. It's not going to be easy but we must be happy for our hard work and commitment. Now I will tell our team we have work to do."
Asked what had impressed him most about the result at the Riverside Stadium, Conte replied: "I knew this game would be difficult because this team is well organised and they are in good form... the first five minutes wasn't good for us. Middlesbrough started very well and we started badly but during the game our possession got better and we started to move the ball quicker. Also we didn't concede and stopped any opportunity for them to score."