Last season it was the scene of The Greatest Story Ever Told, as minnows Leicester City claimed a famous first league title, becoming only the 6th club to win the Premier League. Chelsea, the previous champions from the season before, finished in 10th place after a horrific season.
But the Blue Tide has returned with a vengeance, and this season Chelsea look to be an unstoppable force. Antonio Conte’s men have enjoyed a staggering 13 straight wins in a row. And, on Wednesday night they prefer for the London derby with Tottenham Hotspur, and a record-breaking 14th straight win. But, it wasn’t all plain sailing…
When Italian Conte took over from Jose Mourinho in the summer, there was, understandably, a huge amount of optimism. Conte had guided his national side to a respectable Quarter Final finish at Euro 2016. And before that he had won three Serie A titles in a row with Juventus. The excitement in South London was obvious, and many had the fallen champions pegged as potential title winners.
However, the start to the season was alarming and raised a few alarm bells. After an opening 3 wins on the spin, Conte’s Chelsea then drew 1 and lost 2 in the next 3 matches. This culminated in a humiliating 3-0 drubbing at the hands of one-time Chelsea whipping boys Arsenal.
Confidence was low, the players looked rattled. And pundits and fans alike were questioning Conte’s future already. It’s at times like this that the true greats of football shine through. Managers like Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson all had intense scrutiny and pressure in their careers, and it was at times like this that they produced. Conte has produced in emphatic style. Since that fateful 3-0 loss at The Emirates Chelsea have not lost a game. In fact, they haven’t drawn a game. They’ve found a way to win every single match they’ve played. Not only that, they’ve kept a staggering 10 clean sheets and conceded only 4 goals in that time.
So what’s the secret? Well, Conte shifted from a traditional back 4 to a back 3 like he did at Juventus, and it has worked wonders. Chelsea are scoring when they need to, and look rock solid at the back. So the question remains, can anyone beat them?
Well, let’s look further at some of the potential title contenders who may upset Chelsea’s apple cart:
First up we have sleeping giants Liverpool; always the bridesmaid, never the bride. The Kopites have had two second place finishes in the last decade, one under Rafa Benitez, and another under Brendan Rodgers. But the Merseysiders have looked like a completely new side under the stewardship of Jurgen Klopp. So far this season they have looked like the best chance of toppling the London club to claim their first league title for 27 years. They have scored the most goals in the division, and are an imperious, breathtaking, attacking force. However, their proclivity for shipping goals and silly individual mistakes could yet cost them. Whether they win the title is another matter, but top 4 seems a certainty.
Verdict – Will push Chelsea all the way before falling short once more (2nd).
If the press and pundits are to be believed, Manchester City are a club in crisis. They’ve endured a mercurial run of form and results, and manager Guardiola seems to be struggling to adapt quickly to the intensity and physicality of the Premier League. To suggest City are out of the title race seems premature, though they have lost 4 games already, and lie 7 points off leaders Chelsea (who have a game in hand). However, they have Sergio Aguero back from suspension, and a squad packed full of superstars who know what is needed to win titles. The second half of their season is crucial, but never write off their chances.
Verdict – Outsiders with too much to do, but should secure a Champions League berth (3rd).
What is there to say about the Gunners that hasn’t been said a thousand times before. They are the classic side that flatters to deceive. After such a good start to the season Arsenal suffered back to back defeats to Everton and Manchester City to bring their title challenge back to reality. Fans will still believe, and they certainly have the quality. But the problem appears to be a mental one, and they are still shaky at the back. The questions surrounding Wenger’s tenure will rage once more, as they have for years. But it’s difficult to see him capture another league title before calling an end to his illustrious career.
Verdict – Will flatter to deceive once again before capturing Champions League qualification (4th).