Sunday, January 01, 2017

Can anyone stop Chelsea?

Date: 11th Sepember 2016. Match: Swansea City vs Chelsea. Result: 2-2
Fact: This was the last time Chelsea drew in a Premier League this year.

Date: 24th September 2016. Scheduled Match: Arsenal vs Chelsea. Result 3-0
Fact: This was the last time Chelsea lost in the premier league this year.

Since then, Chelsea have been unstoppable! They have won 13/13 Premier League games and deservedly, are top of the standing with a safe gap of 6 points from Liverpool in 2nd place. In terms of records, Chelsea are now 2nd in the list of winning streaks in Premier League. The list is led by Arsenal's invincibles for 14 consecutive wins (Feb 2002 - Aug 2002). Chelsea are just one win away from equaling the best and 2 away from beating the best winning streak. And to make it interesting, their next two games are against London rivals (Tottenham) and current champions (Leicester City) - both away. Even a draw against Tottenham will break the streak. This game is an irony for Arsenal fans like me who want Chelsea to lose their winning streak but at the same time want Tottenham to lose anything that comes their way! After a lot of contemplation, I guess I will settle for a draw!

Post the match against Arsenal, Antonio Conte reacted by changing the formation to 3-4-3, with 3 Centre Backs and the 2 "wing-backs" for added support in attack as well as defence. This formation has worked wonders for Chelsea and none of the opponents they faced had an answer to this including their very own Jose Mourinho, whose Manchester United were thrashed by Chelsea 4-0. Another feature of this formation is the role of the CDM, who is even more restricted in his movements and, at times, will act as a virtual CB when under attack. In such occasions, you need a strong and disciplined CDM and Chelsea have that in N'Golo Kante. In attack, Chelsea have Costa leading the line flanked by Hazard and Willian. They have surprisingly formed a destructive partnership post the Mourinho era where something just didn't work right. Add the return to starting place for Fabregas as a box-to-box midfielder and Chelsea are now potent in all areas.

Now, let's come back to my original question, can anyone stop Chelsea? At this juncture, even a draw would mean Chelsea dropping 2 points - such has been their form. They seem to have the desire to win every game they play. The fear has started creeping in for the opposition teams and they will start reacting to Chelsea's winning streak by dropping deep (just like with Stoke did, but eventually caved in to pressure). 

Chelsea's next 5 fixtures - 
Chelsea - Next PL matches - screengrab from Fotmob app
screengrab from Fotmob app
From a neutral standpoint, I expect Chelsea-Tottenham to be an even battle and Chelsea will need all their momentum to get 3 points from this match. The reason why I say this is because these are the 2 best defensive teams of the Premier League and if Tottenham have any ambition of winning the league, they will have to stop the gap between them and leaders Chelsea and this could be their match. As it stands today, Tottenham are 13 points behind Chelsea with a game in hand, which would virtually make it 10 points - still a significant gap. standing - Screengrab as on 31st Dec 2016
screenshot from
If Chelsea wins against Tottenham, then they will breeze past Leicester City, who were patchy at best and would be without some top players due to their participation in African cup of nations tournament. Their next biggest hurdle will be against Liverpool and I fully expect it to be a virtual decider of the season. Assuming Chelsea continue grabbing points every game and Liverpool continue to impress, this game will be explosive. If Liverpool fail to snatch all 3 points against Chelsea, then we can consider Chelsea as the firm favorites to win the league. Then comes Arsenal. We can claim to have the bragging rights over Chelsea this season, something that Chelsea would be least bothered about anyway. To be fair to Arsenal, we had the bragging rights over last season's champions as well (we did a double on them too!). But again, these are just bragging rights and also shows that we were too inconsistent last season as well as this, in terms of competing for the title. 

Its important for the quality of the Premier League that the leader in the table is not too far from the second. There has to be some amount of competition for the top spot. Liverpool are playing well and are the team most likely to challenge Chelsea, followed by inconsistent teams like Manchester City, Arsenal and Spurs. Let's not dismiss the resurgent Manchester United (who are on a 5 match winning streak of their own in the league). But for now, Chelsea fans - rejoice! The rest - we need to buckle up. There's more to be done next year.

Happy New Year everyone! Stay Blessed.

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