How the next three matches may make or break Chelsea’s title charge
The Premier League title is all but sealed in our favour, isn’t it? I mean, a potential ten-point lead at the top of the table is not something we’re going to give up in 7 games; not when Jose Mourinho’s in charge at least.
Despite this confidence, there are sounds coming from opposing camps on how they may be in the race. Arsene Wenger may not have said it directly, but has insinuated it obviously enough. On the contrary, Louis Van Gaal has openly talked about his title chances. Manuel Pellegrini is probably in a phase of pessimism, but he can’t have lost all hope. Especially taking into account how the Citizens came from behind in the last few games during both their Premier League successes in 2012 and 2014.
The fact of the matter is – We aren’t playing well. The early-season swagger has deserted us, and we are looking shaky no matter which opponent we face. To put things into context, we haven’t won by more than one goal in the Premier League since January, when we dished out a 5-0 thrashing to Swansea City. Coincidentally, that was also the last time Oscar scored a goal. Our fall from grace since then has been alarming, and even though we won the Capital One Cup in February by comfortably beating Spurs in the final, it’s our unceremonious Champions League exit and indifferent performances at home that have made the headlines of late.
Make or break:
Despite all the lack of consistency, confidence and assurance though, Chelsea are still firm favourites for the title. We edged our way to a narrow 2-1 victory over Stoke City at the weekend. This means that we need 5 wins and 1 draw from our remaining 8 fixtures to seal a first league title in 5 years. That sounds easy enough, but the immediate future sees us facing a really challenging run of fixtures.
I will put my neck on the line and say that if we were to maintain our lead until April 26th, there is nobody who can stop us from winning the title. Coming out of the next three fixtures unscathed though, looks to be a dicey proposition, especially with the kind of football we are currently playing.
Next Saturday, we travel to Loftus Road to take on a Queens Park Rangers side that has peaked at just the wrong time, from our perspective. After putting in a promising performance against Everton a fortnight ago, they blew away West Bromwich Albion 4-1 to record just their second win away from home this season. They face Aston Villa on Wednesday before hosting us. The Hoops are just a point away from retaining their Premier League status and have as much incentive as Chelsea to win the match. It’ll be a tough one, and we need to get off to a good start to make things comfortable.
A week later, we host our biggest rivals from the last decade, Manchester United. The Red Devils are in great form and have more or less sealed Champions League football for next season. Van Gaal still won’t stop talking about a potential title push, but for that, his side will have to go for broke at Stamford Bridge. United stole a draw in the last minute at Old Trafford in November, but this is a game both sides must win to strengthen their cause. It will be interesting to see if Diego Costa is declared fit for this one.
The Premier League can be really intense, and after getting through United, we must travel to the Emirates Stadium to take on the most in-form side in the league, Arsenal. The Gunners have picked up 30 points since the turn of the year, the most by any side. They have won their last 6 matches and are currently ahead of Manchester City and Manchester United in 2nd place. Jose Mourinho, of course, has an unbeaten record against Wenger, but this is sure to be the toughest test yet. Arsenal could make their way into the title race if we’re not careful, and are capable of anything on current form. We may well see Mourinho shut up shop and play for a draw in this game.
Possibilities and Implications:
Given the mediocre performances of late, taking all 9 points from these 3 games is something I do not see happening. We will drop points in this run-in, but the number is what counts. The game against QPR is a must-win. A draw or a loss in that one going into two mammoth encounters is the worst thing that could happen. Our away form has been quite decent of late though, with 4 wins in our last 4.
The game against United still remains one of the biggest fixtures in the Premier League calendar, even though they have gone off the boil in the past couple of seasons. The Red Devils recently won at Anfield, and Van Gaal seems to have finally found the right combination. Even though a draw would be a decent result, this is a game I would really like to see us win, one because we’re at home, and two because it’s United.
The Arsenal game will have huge implications only if we go into it having dropped 4 or more points in the previous two. If that were to be the case, the Gunners could potentially overtake us with a win. Even though I don’t see it happening, it is not a possibility we can discount altogether. This is a game where a draw would be a fantastic result for us. Playing on the counter could even give us chances to win all three points. Liverpool were firing on all cylinders towards the end of last season, and we all know what happened when they faced us.
All in all, I would take two draws and a win from this run of fixtures. Most importantly, it is imperative to avoid defeat against Arsenal. If we manage that, the title is ours.
Missing out on the title would be the most disastrous thing to happen since Rafa Benitez. Even though this season has thrown up more questions than answers since the turn of the year, failure to land the Premier League title after leading the race from Day 1 would compound the misery. Therefore, it’s time for the players to hold their nerve, keep calm and deliver.
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Edited By: Vikram Vadiganeni