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The pressure of expectation now weighs on Chelsea’s title charge

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Tough match, good result

Chelsea v Hull City - Premier League Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Twenty-two games down, sixteen to go. Not counting cup matches, one of which is actually next on the agenda to distract us for a minute.

Chelsea’s enviable position at the very top of the English football pyramid carries with it its own set of unique pressures. Eight points clear of our nearest challenger, the title is Chelsea’s to lose. We can talk around that all we want, but as the gap is maintained or even increased as it has been with every game since the Spurs loss, it’s becoming undeniable. Chelsea may have equalled a Premier League record to get here with 13 wins in a row, but we would have to do something equally tragic to not finish in the same position. We’re flirting with record pace here, after all.

We’re well familiar with those first two Mourinho seasons, while the fourth team were Manchester United in 2012-13, when they ended up winning the league by 11 points despite dropping 8 points in the final four games after they clinched their 20th top division title. Those are three of the greatest seasons in the Premier League’s quarter century.

Perhaps it was some of those expectation that weighed down Chelsea’s performance against Hull City over the weekend. Unlike most of our games under Antonio Conte, Chelsea lacked the usual second half improvement and while individual performances were more or less satisfactory or even great, the team’s overall performance left a few things to be desired. Nonetheless, Chelsea added the three points to the tally, notching yet another clean sheet as well.

"This game wasn’t our best but I think that’s normal because we are in the second part of the season and the points are important for us and the other team. They were important for Hull because they are in the relegation zone. We faced a good team with good organisation. They changed their system to play against us."

"After this weekend you can see that when I say this league is very difficult and no game is easy, that’s the reality. A lot of our opponents dropped points."

"It’s not easy to play the last game of the weekend and know the results of the other teams. In different aspects there was pressure on us. We had to exploit this weekend and it’s not easy."

Chelsea’s road to the title in 2015 was littered with pragmatic performances, though Conte has shown little inclination to play a more conservative style than we have been using since switching to the 3-4-3 sixteen games ago. In fact, against Hull, it was the “standard” starting eleven we’ve now used nine times since.

"No. In my experience as a footballer I won and lost titles four games from the end. Now, we have an eight-point lead and there are 16 games to play. We have good experience and understand this league will be very tough until the end."

"To win this type of game and exploit the situation with other teams dropping points is important, but I’m sure it will be tough until the end. To be in this position is fantastic because at the start of the season nobody would have thought it."

-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC

The win against the Tigers was also notable for maintaining Chelsea’s almost perfect record against teams outside of the top six. Other than the rather harsh two dropped points away to Swansea (i.e. the Leroy Fer foul on Gary Cahill game), Chelsea have collected 45 out of a possible 45, in stark contrast to the rest of the challengers, almost all of whom have lost at least three games worth of points in such fashion so far.

Since Delaney updated that table, United dropped a couple more points as well with yet another draw against Stoke City.

So this is where Chelsea are winning the battle. The pressures are different, but the points all count that same. And this is where we can win the war — something to keep in mind heading into the next two games. Chelsea have three wins and three losses against teams in the top six. Maintaining that 50 per cent record would probably be enough to keep the momentum going at full tilt.

The upcoming games againt Liverpool and Arsenal will be massive occasions, of that there is no doubt. Winning them, or at least not losing them will be imperative just in terms of narrative. But Chelsea are guaranteed to remain top regardless of what happens in the next two games. As long as we take care of business where we are expected to and have been almost without fail so far this season, the title can probably be ours at the end without too much problem.

No pressure then!