The Premier League is one match short of its official halfway point — Southampton and West Ham play on Thursday in the final fixture of Matchday 19 — but for all intents and purposes, we’re now done with the first-half of the season and set to begin the second.
It’s probably fair to say that not many would’ve expected Liverpool to have a six-point lead on the rest of the league (and a seven-point lead on already anointed defending champions Manchester City), but what we’re most concerned with is Chelsea, sitting in fourth, on 40 points.
19 games: 12 wins, 4 draws, 3 defeats, 37 scored, 16 conceded.
Plus 6 games in Europe: 5-1-0; 12:3
Plus 3 games in the League Cup: 3-0-0; 6:3
Plus the 0-2 loss in the Community Shield, if we’re counting.
Scoring two per game, conceding less than one per game, and it’s certainly not the worst points return. In 2015-16, it would’ve been good enough to lead the league at this point. But in an increasingly top-heavy division, it’s only good for fourth and a double-digit deficit — eleven points to be exact — on the unbeaten league leaders.
2017/18: 39 points— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 26, 2018
2018/19: 40 points
After 19 games, Maurizio Sarri has improved Chelsea... just. pic.twitter.com/1pmJkzmEeX
It’s also only a single point better than where Conte had the Blues last season. It is of course easy to forget that Chelsea had a decent enough first-half of last season before the collapse after the new year. And that’s what Sarri will have to work extra-hard to avoid.
Can he do it? The squad seems deeper and generally healthier, the rotation smarter, Sarri-ball perhaps more promising (in terms of “fun”) even if not quite as consistently solid and sustainable (in terms of results) as Conte-ball. The mood also seems significantly improved, and that can make all the difference during the dog days of mid-to-late winter. Chelsea are fighting across four competitions (the FA Cup starts in a week) and Sarri’s emphasis on mentality is telling as to what will be the key to get us through those successfully.
Top four with a cup certainly seems attainable. And there’s no time to waste, the second-half of the season starts on Sunday, away to Crystal Palace.
Abramovich-era Premier League season first-halves, ranked:
- 2005-06 (Mourinho): 17-1-1; 41:9; 52pts (1st place)
- 2016-17 (Conte): 16-1-2; 42:13; 49pts (1st place)
- 2004-05 (Mourinho): 14-4-1; 38:8; 46pts (1st place)
- 2014-15 (Mourinho): 14-4-1; 41:14; 46pts (1st place)
- 2006-07 (Mourinho): 14-3-2; 33:13; 45pts (2nd place)
- 2009-10 (Ancelotti): 13-3-3; 43:15; 42pts (1st place)
- 2003-04 (Ranieri): 13-3-3; 36:16; 42pts (3rd place)
- 2008-09 (Scolari): 12-5-2; 38:7; 41pts (2nd place)
- 2018-19 (Sarri): 12-4-3; 37:16; 40pts (4th place)
- 2013-14 (Mourinho): 12-4-3; 35:19; 40pts (3rd place)
- 2017-18 (Conte): 12-3-4; 32:14; 39pts (3rd place)
- 2012-13 (Di Matteo/Benítez): 11-5-3; 39:18; 38pts (3rd place)
- 2007-08 (Mourinho/Grant): 11-5-3; 29:14; 38pts (3rd place)
- 2010-11 (Ancelotti): 10-4-5; 33:15; 34pts (4th place)
- 2011-12 (Villas-Boas): 10-4-5; 37:24; 34pts (5th place)
- 2015-16 (Mourinho/Hiddink): 5-5-9; 23:29; 20pts (14th place)