Even when Chelsea, the league leaders, drop points their challengers continuously stumble and struggle in a procession of a Premier League title race
Chelsea finally dropped points with the draw at Burnley and people may have thought: “there’s still a chance to see an exciting fight for the Premier League title.” Instead, when the Blues slow down even just slightly, the teams behind tend to manage even poorer results and never get around to closing the gap. Antonio Conte was nine points clear of the second (Tottenham) before the weekend, he is now 10 points clear of Spurs and Arsenal despite Chelsea failing to win.
If Chelsea weren’t up there alone, the Premier League would be easily the most balanced and exciting league in Europe. But obviously Chelsea are, and deserve to be, having had that consistency that every other team is lacking. Manchester City, Tottenham, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal – the other five components of the ‘Big Six’ – have never managed to find the right formula to draw a straight line of positive results. At one point or another in the season, they all had a black-out moment.
If one of these teams doesn’t wake up in time, Chelsea will literally cruise to the title, in a way that hasn’t happened often in England in recent years. Leicester City had to fight hard for the title, Liverpool lost it due to a slip-up, Man City in 2012 needed a last minute miracle goal. If Chelsea continue this way, like a tank crushing over ruins, they’ll have the title won well before the end of the season. And it will be a magical achievement for Conte.
It is fair to say that out of the aforementioned six teams Chelsea were the least favourites to do so well. Tottenham came from a campaign that saw them only just lose the title, Arsenal were second in the league, Manchester City brought in Pep Guardiola, United had Jose Mourinho together with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, and Liverpool started a fresh season under the dynamic Jurgen Klopp.
After just over six months, Conte can look at everyone from a point of power. He has outplayed most of his direct opponents so far, and more importantly has managed to do what the others have all struggled with: winning consistently against the smaller clubs. This is what makes a difference in a title race.
When it mattered, the others simply didn’t manage to make the most of Chelsea’s mistakes, dropping points when they really shouldn’t have. Liverpool had not won yet in 2017, and Tottenham had the chance to go two points closer to the leaders, but a Sadio Mane double killed all their hopes.
If Chelsea continue this way, it will be impossible to stop them from lifting the Premier League trophy in May. But if they do slow down, it is necessary that someone raises the bar and at least attempts to keep up with the Blues to have an exciting end to this season.