We may be only seven games into the season, however Chelsea have already proved they are the team to beat, after a blistering start that has seen them amass 19 points from a possible 21. They have been putting sides to the sword with the lethal core of Nemanja Matic, Andre Schuerrle, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Diego Costa forming an almost telepathic understanding amongst themselves. The Blues have already scored 21 goals and opened up a five-point lead at the summit. That begs the question – are they unstoppable? This writer believes so.
Firstly, history has revealed that the Blues have made rapid starts to seasons that have not culminated in winning the league. Under manager Luiz Felipe Scolari in the 2008/09 season, they won 10 of their first 13 games, but later suffered a torrid run of four wins in 12 games that derailed their title aspirations. Two seasons later under Carlo Ancelotti, they won eight of the first 10 games before hitting another lull – one win in eight matches. More recently in 2012/13, under Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea made it seven wins and a draw out of the first eight games before running out of steam to accumulate a paltry four points from the available 21. Will history repeat itself? Perhaps so, given the rapid pace with which they play and the energy exerted in these games. If an opposition can get a hold of possession – as has been the case in the past – and adopt a ‘park the bus’ tactic made famous by the Portuguese, they will definitely tire and frustrate Chelsea into mistakes.
Secondly, although Chelsea have scored 21 goals, they have also conceded seven goals – two worse than Southampton, who boast the least goals conceded thus far. If anything epitomises the goals they have conceded or the chances they have afforded their opponents, it is at set-pieces. As often as is the case at any club – and Chelsea is susceptible to it too – deliveries into the box can result into comical and unwanted errors. Despite the superior height advantage afforded by the Gary Cahill, John Terry and Matic, the Blues often tend to crowd their box. This occasionally allows players to slip their markers and gift their side a goal due to the unceremonious confusion caused. Intelligent headers of the ball will look to capitalise on this small chink in their armour.
Thirdly, keeping Costa quiet. This may arguably be the hardest task for any defender, given his imperious form and commanding physique. However, one need always have to man-mark the individual. The first three games of the season saw Costa’s ill-temper emerge as a result of rash tackles, frustration and the occasionally decisions going the other way. If defenders can legally frustrate him, the chances of them triggering a hot-headed response are respectably high, resulting into the flashing of yellows or red cards. This will in turn shift the dynamics of the team, as Chelsea may have to taste life without the mercurial powers of the diminutive forward.
Fourth and finally, expose their fullbacks. It is no secret the Blues – under Mourinho – are a lethal machine going forward. With fullbacks Ivanovic and Azpilcueta spending a lot of time marauding forward to join in the torrents of attacks they unleash on their opponents, they could be left exposed. Although more often than not the side has recovered from the compromising situations, they are bound to slip at one point or another. Managers must be wary of that possibility.
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