On January 1st, Chelsea were sitting second in the table, a point up on Manchester United and eight points ahead of Tottenham Hotspur, who were 6th.
The Blues had just thrashed Stoke City, 5-0 and while Manchester City had already run away with the Premier League (14-point lead already at the time), top four looked reasonably secure. And our hunt for actual glory was to be in the Champions League, FA Cup or League Cup.
On January 3rd, Chelsea lost a 2-1 lead over Arsenal in the 92nd minute at the Emirates and settled for a draw.
It’s been downhill ever since.
At the time, we had fourteen wins, three draws and a disappointing four losses in the Premier League. Since then, Conte’s men have scraped together four wins, three draws and five losses.
The difference is dramatic. We had been winning points at a 68% clip. Since the calendar turned over, our points percentage has been a paltry 41%. We’ve gone from second in the table to a distant fifth. Tottenham have won 31 points since Auld Lang Syne, Chelsea just 15.
Why? There’s rarely a single cause for any disaster. More often it’s a tidal wave of issues that combine to sweep you away. But it’s hard to ignore the possibility that Chelsea, in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, simply just got tired. With tiredness tend to come mistakes, errors, lapses in concentration, poor decisions, which then magnify any other outside influence like pressure, motivation, or luck.
Chelsea’s fixture list was not unique among the rest of the top six, but a thin squad and a series of injuries exacerbated the problems. Players like Andreas Christensen, Marcos Alonso, Victor Moses, Cesc Fabregas and Alvaro Morata had to (or felt that they had to) play when they probably shouldn’t have. Morata admits he should have rested his back earlier. AC was sent home by his national team in early March because of exhaustion.
Maybe that’s why on Wednesday Conte was so positive about the idea of a winter break, which he got to enjoy in Italy’s Serie A for many years. It’s an arrangement that’s common in the rest of Europe’s biggest leagues.
”This [break] could be a good idea. [It will be] Interesting to help English teams prepare for the second part of the season too, the most important part of the season, if you give a bit of rest to the players.”
The plan proposed by the Football Association is to stagger schedules in January and February so that each club has at least 13 days off. Will it make a difference?
”A great difference. Don’t forget, in England you start to play in November before the international break and you play until March, every three days.
“When you arrive in March, the physical condition of your team can’t be good, it can’t be top especially if you go forward in a competition like the EFL or FA Cup.”
While the proposal doesn’t eliminate the rugged Christmas schedule, it does offer relief in the weeks immediately following. A two-week rest from competition would give players not only a physical break, but a mental one too.
There’s no guarantee that a winter break this season would have stopped Chelsea’s fall into the precipice. But given the condition and size of the squad for the first 21 matches, it surely wouldn’t have hurt.