LONDON • Closer and closer, the best team in the English Premier League are within a game of glory.
Victory at The Hawthorns on Friday will deservedly bring Chelsea and Antonio Conte, their inspirational manager, the title.
They have talent in all areas, total commitment in every shirt and a tactical mastermind and master man-manager in the Italian.
Tony Pulis, West Bromwich Albion's manager, was on Monday dapperly dressed and looking on, joining an all-star audience including Carlo Ancelotti, Andriy Shevchenko, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, John Hollins and Tommy Baldwin, as Chelsea crushed Middlesbrough 3-0 at Stamford Bridge to move within touching distance of the coveted trophy.
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Pulis will try to prepare an ambush on Friday, and the game could break the record for most centre-backs on view, but West Brom have not won since mid-March and Chelsea are an irresistible force.
EPL TITLE RUN-IN
CHELSEA (84 POINTS)
May 12: West Brom (a)
May 15: Watford (h)
May 21: Sunderland (h)
TOTTENHAM (77 POINTS)
May 14: Man United (h)
May 18: Leicester City (a)
May 21: Hull City (a)
For all the talk of "Squeaky Brom time", Chelsea could be celebrating a sixth title by the end of the night.
"We're very close. We must be honest. But we need to do another little step and win another game," Conte said after Monday's match, which condemned Middlesbrough to relegation.
"For sure now I'm a bit relaxed. This step was big for us, a big win. Now we need to do another step. We have the possibility to do this on Friday against West Brom.
"For sure it won't be easy, because West Brom is a really good team, a physical team, and we must pay great attention.
"We are very close, but we need another step to become champions of the Premier League, which would be a fantastic achievement for us."
While victory at West Brom will deliver the title, Chelsea also have home games against Watford and Sunderland in which they can snatch the three points they need to make it across the finish line.
Nearest challengers Tottenham Hotspur are seven points behind with three matches to go. The North London club's next match is a tough one against Manchester United on Sunday.
Goals from Diego Costa, Marcos Alonso and Nemanja Matic on Monday re-established Chelsea's lead at the top of the table.
With Cesc Fabregas controlling the game, Conte's side were a class apart from Middlesbrough, and will be a league apart next season.
"It was a great performance and an important win to exploit Tottenham Hotspur's defeat (against West Ham United last week)," Conte said. "A big win. Last season was very bad and this season, don't forget, we started with a lot of problems. Now we have done very well to find the right way and have a fantastic season."
At the end of the match, Chelsea's fans were roaring "We're going to win the league", and everyone who supported the club was thanking Conte and the team.
Ancelotti looked on, beaming. An Italian double-winning coach at Chelsea?
Ancelotti may soon be followed by Conte. If Chelsea win on Friday, Conte can begin resting players before the FA Cup final against Arsenal on May 27.
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE