Last Sunday, after watching his side lose 2-1 at Swansea City, Arsene Wenger effectively conceded the title to Chelsea. Jose Mourinho’s side are four points clear of Southampton at the top of the table and another four ahead of third-placed Manchester City. The other sides imagined before the season as serious contenders lie even further adrift: Arsenal are 12 points back, Manchester United 13, Liverpool 15.
Chelsea have already played four of their six hardest away games (against the two Manchester and two Liverpool clubs) and, even worse for their rivals, they may not even be at their best yet. Defensively, in particular, there is probably improvement to come.
“Look at the season and Chelsea are on course for 105 points,” Wenger said in his post-match press conference. “Look at the number of points they have today and if they keep that up nobody will touch them, that’s for sure. It doesn’t look like anybody is capable of challenging them at the moment.
He continued: “There’s no obvious reason, but they have had a good start and as long as you don’t lose you don’t question yourself. Maybe a little bit more extra spirit in the team helps them when it gets tight.”
No obvious reason? Wenger may be right that a good start has bred confidence and that Chelsea have a sense of togetherness and purpose—perhaps nurtured by a sense that they wasted a good position last season, not that Mourinho would admit it—but the reason seems clear.
As Mourinho overhauled the squad, there were three clear areas in which improvement was needed. Most obviously, there was the need of a top-class, physically aggressive centre-forward: The signing of Diego Costa has filled that void.
There were problems breaking down lesser sides who packed men behind the ball, allowed Chelsea possession and didn’t give them space to break into: Costa is part of the solution, along with Cesc Fabregas, whose drive and invention have given Chelsea greater variety and potency going forward.
And there was a minor issue at the back of midfield, with Frank Lampard ageing and leaving, and John Obi Mikel never quite convincing: Nemanja Matic, brought in last January, has
Over the summer, Chelsea also added depth to their goalkeeping ranks with Thibaut Courtois and defensively with Filipe Luis. The signings were decisive and focused, addressing specific
concerns, while those deemed surplus were moved on. Wenger might look at his own squad and ask why Lukas Podolski is still there, while he still has no holding midfielder to speak of and a dearth of defenders, and learn a lesson.
There has been an assumption that if Chelsea do falter this season, it will be their forward line that lets them down. Diego Costa’s hamstrings are a worry—although the lay-off Mourinho has
managed to secure over this international break will help—while Loic Remy is injury prone and Didier Drogba is 36. Certainly a couple of injuries happening coincidentally could leave Chelsea stretched, although they do have the option of
either Andre Schurrle or Fabregas as a false nine.
But perhaps more telling is at the other end of the pitch. Last season, Chelsea kept 18 clean sheets in 38 games; this season, in 11, they have kept only three. Some of the goals they’ve conceded—the late equalisers from Manchester United and Manchester City, Fraizer Campbell’s late strike for Crystal Palace, Charlie Austin’s goal for Queens Park Rangers at Stamford Bridge—have resulted from unusually sloppy play.
Mourinho can’t be overly concerned by that, but it would be no great surprise if he suddenly decided on a crack down, as he did last season.
After Chelsea lost at Sunderland in the Capital One Cup quarter-final last season, Mourinho looked unusually tired. He was frustrated with his side and announced a change of approach, going back to basics. They drew the next match 0-0 at Arsenal and went on to keep a further 13 clean sheets in the 21 league games that remained.
Part of the issue this season may be the slight change in midfield, with Matic operating as a lone holder, and Fabregas being fairly offensively minded alongside him, whereas last year there were usually two defensive presences in front of the back four. But even if that is the case, the point is there is room for improvement in that aspect. If Chelsea come under pressure, Mourinho can reset the balance of the side and make them more resilient: There is a clear fall-back position.
At the moment, though, it feels as though Chelsea won’t even be pressured: The only question is how many points they will win the title by.
Credits: Bleacher Reports.
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