There is every suggestion now that the English Premiership table will have a distinctly familiar look about it at Christmas, the sieve going into overdrive as if it were in festive mood itself.
While the ‘smaller’ early pacesetters Southampton, West Ham and Swansea are still hanging around, it is as evident as it was always inevitable that the gravitational pull is beginning to drag them down from the dizzying heights of the first two months of the campaign. That is not to say that the big boys are now consistently charging, Chelsea excepted of course they are still pretty much stumbling along, the ascent mostly dogged but clearly determined, but all the same prompting that occasional doctor’s report that avid readers of this column have come to expect.
While Jose Mourinho will vehemently deny that Chelsea are hot in the pursuit of an unbeaten league season, inwardly he must be resolute and behind closed dressing room doors his squad must be whispering it before each kickoff.
An unbeaten season would quite burgeon the reputation of the Egotistical One, and of course there is always the thought of surpassing his old aersary Arsene Wenger, which even if he would scorn at, he must surely harbour and would relish.
Clearly worried about the absence of the suspended Diego Costa for Tottenham’s visit in midweek, despite being typically bullish, a relieved Mourinho was gushing in post-match praise of replacements Didier Drogba and Loic Remy.
That those two stepped up should worry rivals, so too the fact that Eden Hazard has maintained a high level, Oscar and Willian have stepped up a gear, and Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic just seem to be playing within themselves and can go up a notch too.
It can easily be taken for granted, but Mourinho has got to get the plaudits for creating such admirable stability. The 4-2-3-1 formation they play to has been perfected and made to look simple, the division of labour clear and the roles mastered. There are some holes at the back and Tottenham occasionally found them, but the line is mostly solid in front of a rarely troubled but steady and top class goalkeeper. The two deeper lying midfielders are doing a classy no-thrills job, and the attacking trident enjoying a freedom Mourinho hasn’t always accorded their kind in the past all this behind a high scoring lone striker with able back-up.
It is of course a very long way to go, but if Chelsea are to go unbeaten we will not have to wait too long for proof of ability to. The ultimate test comes this very December. The away trips to Newcastle, Stoke and Southampton will make as much interesting viewing as the home clash with West Ham, a feisty London derby sure to be cranked up by Sam Allardyce’s big mouth. In between are Cup games against Sporting Lisbon and Derby County for which Mourinho can rotate and rest. At a physical level that Chelsea squad is more equipped than most to handle fatigue issues accruing from fixture congestion it is the question of mental mettle that we are about to get an answer to.
Man City and the rest
That mental question does not only manifest itself in the pursuit of the unbeaten but also, equally critically, in the fact that they now have to look over their shoulders to the aancing Manchester City.
Mourinho is aware that City started shakily lasts season as well, before making a breathtaking charge to finish as champions, and that they are more than capable of repeating the feat.
At the moment they are riding on the back of the best finisher in the business – Sergio Aguero but Yaya Toure is showing (albeit in flashes) that he can still provide wide shoulders for the team to lean on, and David Silva is returning. When (not if) Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas and Edin Dzeko begin to pull similar weight, City will be hard to stop.
The defending has looked shambolic many times, but like was the case with their other two titles City can win again by out-attacking all and sundry, as showcased by those last two away wins at Southampton and Sunderland.
And of course they also pose a very direct threat to Chelsea’s ambitions, as one of few teams that can be given a big pre-kickoff chance of ending that unbeaten run when they square up at Stamford Bridge in the second round, if Mourinho’s Blues are still unbeaten then that is.
As you might remember, before the start I called for Arsenal to pace those two in the title race, but they won’t find it easy clawing back the deficit they have accrued. Like I envisaged however, and even if Man United might beg to disagree, theirs with Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton is another league altogether. But to all that next week.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor