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The silver lining

Ian Walton

Chelsea have been poor of late. That's not a controversial statement. Arsenal aside, even the recent wins have been a bit dubious, and our last two Premier League games have been -- and this is me being kind -- utterly farcical.

Normally, taking one point from Newcastle away and West Bromwich Albion at home would be disastrous. It would, in all probability, shine some light upon a club in deep crisis, falling away from any hope of silverware and putting even Champions League qualification in question. We're used to how late autumn goes: Chelsea falter; everyone else marches bravely on.

But these are not normal times. Obviously, we'd all like the Blues to maybe start acting a little more like they have a clue what they're doing, because Chelsea being good at football would lead to less stress all around, but unlike in previous years, this bad moment hasn't seen our chances of the title crippled. The silver lining in a slew of mediocre performances is that we're sharing the problem with everyone else.

Sunday saw Tottenham Hotspur lose at home against Newcastle. It saw Manchester City fall victim to Phil Bardsley(!) and Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. League leaders Arsenal went to Old Trafford and Mesut Ozil promptly turned back into a pumpkin. Of the top teams -- and yes, I'm still discounting Southampton), only Manchester United and Liverpool can emerge from the carnage happy.

This is the sort of pattern that's emerged from the early stages of the Premier League season. It's not that big teams are slipping up, which has always happened. It's that everyone's doing it at once. Normally, we'd see embarrassing performances concentrated in one crisis side. This year, the fun's being spread to... well, everyone. Nobody's high has lasted more than a month or so.

And so Chelsea, despite achieving some utterly pathetic results of late, find themselves just four points behind league-leading Arsenal,and with plenty of season left to go. They're also ahead of both Manchester sides, whom a few short months ago were considered our only serious rivals for the title.

That's not a position we want to be in, of course. Ideally, we'd be ten points clear and laughing at the squabbling little minnows left trailing in our wake. But it does mean that, unlike previous moments of crisis, which would see one side grab an enormous lead and put the title race to bed before Christmas, everyone has a chance to finish first by simply playing less badly than the rest of the division.

There's much work to be done in ending this tailspin. But ultimately it's unlikely to have cost us very much. We're still in decent position to challenge for the title. We're almost certainly qualifying for the Champions League knockout rounds. We've done well in the League Cup. And there's quite a lot of room for improvement.

That's your silver lining, ladies and gentlemen. The glass is half full, and we have the capacity to top it up.

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