Steve Agnew is hoping to put the brakes on Antonio Conte’s surge towards a first Premier League title to keep Middlesbrough’s survival hopes alive.
Boro would slip ever closer to relegation if they failed to win at Stamford Bridge on Monday evening, while Conte’s Chelsea would take a significant step towards the title with a victory which would stretch their lead over second-placed Tottenham to seven points.
That would represent a major achievement for the Italian, who swapped his job as national boss of his native country for the hot seat at Chelsea during the summer and has led them irrepressibly to the brink of glory.
Agnew, who is just eight games into his reign after being asked to replace Aitor Karanka at the Riverside Stadium helm in March, said: “He’s a winner, isn’t he, and I think that rubs off on his team’s performances.
“Let’s just hope that we can be the team that comes out on top on Monday night.
“When you analyse the teams as a coach, you can then look at the degree of work that’s gone in and I can only praise Conte because when I analyse Chelsea, I can see as a coach how much work has gone in to the team both defensively and offensively.”
Chelsea went into the weekend four points clear at the top of the table, and Spurs 1-0 defeat at West Ham on Friday evening opened the door for the Blues a little wider.
Two more wins from their remaining four games will ensure they cannot be caught, and Agnew, whose side cannot afford to lose any of their last three fixtures, knows exactly what is at stake for both sides.
He said: “Monday will be an unbelievable night for Chelsea at the top and ourselves fighting to stay in the league.
“They’ve been excellent. They play with a back three and lots of attacking players. One thing they have is top quality players and an unbelievable work ethic within that.
“You can see when you analyse Chelsea not only how good they are going forward, but how hard they are to break down.”
Boro, who will start the game seven points adrift of safety, will have to match that their hosts in every department if they are to stand a chance of extending their stay back in the top flight beyond a single season, but their head coach is confident Conte’s men will not have things all their own way.
He said: “We’ve had to win matches for a number of weeks, so the players are used to that pressure. They’ve coped well in recent weeks and we’re all ready.”