Chelsea’s EPL title bid could completely derail over the next few weeks if they can’t navigate a tight and tricky schedule, with control of the title race moving to Liverpool and Manchester City.
Liverpool have taken over pole position from Chelsea, while City, despite dropping points at the Emirates, are still best placed mathematically to leapfrog both.
Chelsea’s 1-0 loss to lowly Crystal Palace, a week after dismantling Arsenal 6-0, has seen their hand greatly diminished. On March 8, after an easy 4-0 win over Tottenham, Chelsea were seven points clear of Liverpool and Arsenal (both with a game in hand) and nine points clear of Manchester City (three games in hand).
With points in the bag over their title rivals, Chelsea have stumbled twice since then against Aston Villa and now Crystal Palace, taking only three points form a possible nine. In the same time, Liverpool have taken all 12 of a possible 12 points to go top with 71 points (two points clear of Chelsea), while City have taken 10 of 12 to sit in third with 67 points but with two remaining games in hand. A third slip for Chelsea would surely kill their Premier League title aspirations this season.
What makes a third slip seem strongly possible is Chelsea’s unrelenting schedule. Chelsea face a star-studded Paris Saint-Germain team on April 2 in Paris, before three days later facing Stoke City in the EPL at Stamford Bridge. Three days after that PSG come to town for the second leg before a five-day break to prepare for an away trip to Swansea. Continued progression through a particularly difficult Champions League edition could prove to be a burden unless Chelsea can once again defy the odds and go on to win it.
Should Chelsea progress further into the Champions League their trying schedule will continue, however if they fail to pick up maximum points in between battling PSG and beyond, they can all but kiss their narrowing view of the Premier League crown goodbye for this season.
It has been written in various analyses of the Premier League run in that Chelsea have the easiest run in on paper, with some also acknowledging that it has been the easier sides that Chelsea have struggled against. Simon Johnson foresaw what happened at Crystal Palace in his London Evening Standard article which highlighted Chelsea’s growing trend of slipping up against weaker sides and therefore why this ‘easier’ draw may work against Chelsea. Because of this, it is hard to predict exactly how Chelsea will go against more stubborn customers in Stoke City as well as back to back games against Norwich and Cardiff to finish the season, both of whom may be fighting for survival.
On the other hand, Liverpool, previously a ‘dark horse’ in the title race; have won their last eight Premier League games to go top with Anfield dates against Manchester City and Chelsea to come. Liverpool have not suffered defeat in 13 Premier League games – interestingly, their most recent losses were back to back 2-1 defeats away against Manchester City and Chelsea at the end of December.
Liverpool, despite not boasting the same squad depth as Chelsea (or City), have the least congested and demanding run in with a week to prepare for each game- a point Jose Mourinho highlighted in February. Liverpool have six games to play, while Chelsea have at least eight pending Champion’s League progression. Manchester City have eight due to having those two games in hand.
Liverpool’s biggest , City and Chelsea, are to be played in front of the vociferous Kop. Given that they play both their direct rivals the math is simple for Liverpool- win the next six games and the title is yours, although this is far easier said than done.
Furthermore, and this is very important, Liverpool do not suffer from an inability to break lesser teams down like Chelsea. Liverpool’s philosophy is currently very attacking and they have scored 54 of a whopping 88 goals this season in the first half of games. Comparatively, Man City have scored 34 of their 80 goals in the first 45 mins while Chelsea have only managed to score 27 of their 62 league goals in the first half.
It may well be Liverpool’s undoing when they face their remaining title rivals in Chelsea and City, but currently the Red’s attacking firepower has been enough to cover their defensive weaknesses. Their ability to score early and heavily (sometimes simultaneously) has either blown sides away or forced teams into an open game, which has been a major stumbling point for Chelsea against the lower teams.
However, this is why City and Chelsea will be the real tests for Liverpool and as Owen Roberts pointed out in his Football Rants article last week, the title will likely be decided at Anfield. With City also boasting an impressive amount of firepower, can Liverpool hope to blow them away in a shootout when the teams meet on the 13th? Can Liverpool afford to go all out attacking wise against Chelsea two weeks later or will they be punished on the counter?
All three teams have close to full strength squads, with Chelsea being the most stretched of late due to Champion’s League participation and some untimely and unnecessary suspensions (think Ramires against Aston Villa). As mentioned Liverpool have the lightest squad but they are carrying the best form into their remaining six games, and seem to be playing without inhibition. On the other hand, City have games in hand, a deep squad with one of their most important players in Aguero returning and the experience of doing it all before.
The outcome of City’s visit to Anfield in less than two weeks will determine who holds the ascendancy or muddy the waters even further. A slip up this weekend by any of the three could also change things! What is clear is that a lot can happen between now and the end of the season, but currently the power lies with the two teams in the North West.
What is also clear is that Chelsea will not be able to win the title for themselves if they lose more points between now and their trip to Anfield on April 27. However, if Mourinho can successfully navigate his little horse through a difficult few weeks, they will remain well and truly alive in the race for Premier League glory.