Heading to Old Trafford to face Manchester United is always a tough test, even recently, during their decline. The pressure to get a result at the league's biggest ground against a big rival will continue to be huge, at least for a club like Chelsea. We pride ourselves on getting results against the big clubs. This year, however, a look at the table will reveal the pressure of a huge opportunity.
That's right. Today's results mean Chelsea have an opportunity to open an absolutely massive gap on every one of our presumed title rivals. Manchester City could have put a different kind of pressure on Chelsea by closing the gap to the top by three points - as Arsenal did - but they came unstuck at Upton Park. Sam Allardyce's West Ham stormed to a 2-0 lead, and endured the final fifteen minutes to win 2-1 after a fantastic David Silva goal.
Arsenal made a dent in their eleven-point deficit today with the aforementioned win, but remain eight points down on Chelsea, having played one game more. Sunderland lost 8-0 just a week ago, and continued their poor form against the Gunners, who won 2-0 through an Alexis Sanchez brace and never had to get out of second gear.
Last season's runners-up Liverpool, like champions City, dropped more vital points in the title race, drawing 0-0 against Hull City. Hull never truly threatened, but they limited Liverpool's opportunities as well. The two best chances for the Reds fell to Mario Balotelli, who missed both.
West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace's 2-2 draw and Swansea City's 2-0 defeat of Leicester City were both interesting matches, but neither is likely to impact the title race at all. Southampton's 1-0 defeat of Stoke, however, might. History suggests that the Saints are unlikely to threaten long-term, but they remain Chelsea's biggest challengers, just three points behind.
Chelsea can, of course, stretch that back to six points with a win tomorrow, but, more-importantly, those three points would extend Chelsea's lead over City to eight points. Arsenal and Liverpool would be eleven points off the pace, and Manchester United a huge thirteen behind on less-than-half of Chelsea's total.
Of course, it's absurd to suggest that a title could be won after just nine matches of thirty-eight, but it seems improbable that Jose Mourinho would allow his Chelsea side to let go of an eight-point lead, even over the course of twenty-nine matches. The potential for this match to be a title decider is what will make this an incredibly-important match.
A win would put Chelsea in the driving seat of the title race, albeit with a long way left to run. A draw wouldn't be the end of the world, but it would represent an opportunity missed, especially against a misfiring United side. A loss, though, would be an even bigger blow. Not only would our unbeaten start to the season be lost, it may even spell an early start to the traditional November slump.
Let's just win, though, so we can start getting ahead of ourselves.