Frank Lampard has declared fourth place Chelsea the underdogs in the Premier League’s top-four race after a January transfer window that saw our rivals strength and us do nothing at all.
That may sound defeatist, and akin to José Mourinho’s self-fulfilling prophecy in 2013-14 of Chelsea failing to win the league, but maybe Lampard’s just looking at the table and seeing the way our results have been trending over the last few months.
There is no obvious way to break a 38-game season into equal segments, but one way I like to do it is by increments of 12-13 games. This is by no means scientific, but it does tend to coincide nicely with international breaks and schedule-focus shifts. This season we’re also helped by the winter break, which we’ve now reached after 25 rounds played. Earlier, we had dealt with the last international break of the season after round 12. So we have nice clean breaks for the first, second, and now third trimesters, with a Premier League baby of certain regard to birth at the end.
Unfortunately, Chelsea’s results paint a stark comparison between the two trimesters so far. The doctors might and possibly should in fact be concerned.
Chelsea entered the November international break on the back of six straight league wins. Christian Pulisic couldn’t stop scoring, and neither could Tammy Abraham. (As we’ve dearly learned since, it’s important to have at least a couple consistent sources of goals.) The season had not started well, but at this point Chelsea were the in-form team, sitting third and, more importantly, had a NINE point cushion over fifth place already.
Having earned 26 points from the first 12 games (2.08 average), we’ve collected just 15 in 13 (1.15 average) since.
While losing at Manchester City to begin this second trimester was nothing to be ashamed about (and Chelsea actually played quite well), four of the five losses since (three at home!) have been beyond frustrating, especially with similar patterns of play resulting in similar shortcomings in both attack and defense.
Unsurprisingly, our cushion has dwindled dramatically, though perhaps not nearly as much as it should’ve thanks to the parity seen in this year’s league (outside of Liverpool, obviously). We’ve gone from a nine point cushion to just a FOUR point gap, with Spurs once again back in the equation, replacing Arsenal in the Top 8, to make things even more annoying.
So, 25 down, 13 to go. How will the third trimester play out? The Top 8 has stayed remarkably consistent, almost down to exact position, but if Lampard’s correct, we may not be able to bank on that.
Fortunately — or scarily — we might not have to wait too long to find out.
When we return from break, Chelsea’s next three games, all at home, could decide our fate. If nothing else, they will set the tone. In the span of just eight days, we will welcome Manchester United (Feb 17), Spurs (Feb 22), and Bayern Munich (Feb 25) to Stamford Bridge.
Win the first two, and we’re sitting pretty. Win the third, and we might even some confidence. Anything else, and it’s a scrap to the end, at best.
Miracles can always happen regardless of how these next three games play out — we only have to look back to 2012, though we probably have an even smaller chance of winning the Champions League this season — but that’s not a sustainable strategy.
The team will not improve overnight, but we’re good enough to where we don’t need massive improvement (to finish top four at least). Can we find it?