Make no mistake about it, the English title race is already over. Chelsea’s Premier League opponents may as well begin forming the obligatory guard of honour now – because there’s no way Manchester City are catching them.
That may seem like a rather audacious declaration with 13 Premier League fixtures still to go; we’ve seen mightier margins than the Blues’ current seven points evaporate before – such as Manchester United’s in the 2011/12 campaign – and Chelsea are hardly enjoying top form at the minute, spared from draws against Aston Villa and Everton by a Branislav Ivanovic wonder-strike and a fortuitous Willian goal, deflecting off Steven Naismith in the 89th minute to trickle into Tim Howard’s net, respectively.
But when your right-back is scoring screamers that wouldn’t look out of place on a Cristiano Ronaldo highlight reel to gain three points from an otherwise ordinary performance, you know that element of luck essential in any Premier League title bid is firmly on your side.
Likewise, I’m a strong advocate of the numbers behind the beautiful game – the Moneyball-inspired formulas, the endless supply of OPTA statistics – and when extrapolated until the end of May, the numbers suggest the title will return to Stamford Bridge this term, barring a minor miracle.
For example, Chelsea are currently seven points ahead of the Citizens and boasting 59 points from 25 games, drop, on average, just 0.64 points per match. Should that pattern continue in identical fashion, they’ll miss out on just eight points before the season closes – so the only way Manchester City can leapfrog them in the table is by winning all of their remaining 13 fixtures, giving them 91 points compared to the Blues’ projected 90.
Perhaps not an impossible task, considering the immense quality of the Etihad squad – soon to be further strengthened by Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony upon their return from the African Cup of Nations. But those 13 fixtures include a visit to Anfield in a fortnight to face Liverpool, the Premier League’s most in-form at the minute team by quite some distance, a local derby against Manchester United at Old Trafford, an away trip to Champions League contenders Tottenham and an Etihad clash with Southampton on the final day of the season.
In between, relegation battlers Burnley and Crystal Palace pose potential banana-skins on their respective home patches, and all of that is without City’s Champions League involvement entering the equation – which will almost certainly take priority at Eastlands if they beat Barcelona in the opening knock-out round.
Furthermore, there are some historical factors to consider – particularly surrounding Jose Mourinho. This is the Portuguese’s slimmest margin after 24 games during a title-winning campaign, but he’s never lost a title race when topping the table at Christmas throughout his spells with the Blues, Porto, Inter Milan and Real Madrid. Squandering such leads just isn’t a Jose Mourinho thing.
Similarly, every second season Mourinho has spent at a club has always proved his most successful, with a virtual guarantee of league titles. He won the domestic league and the Champions League during his second campaign with both Inter Milan and Porto, and the Portuguese’s second season at the Bernabeu was the only time in which he lifted the La Liga trophy – recording his only double over rivals Barcelona in the process. The exception? His second term at Chelsea, where the west Londoners won a consecutive Premier League tile but failed to retain the FA Cup from the year before.
The idea of history repeating itself so accurately, or Chelsea’s points ratio to staying exactly the same until the end of May, might come across a little simplistic; football is one of the most unpredictable sports in the world, and if it were just a matter of formulas, every Premier League dugout would be headed by scientists and data specialists already.
But with history, the numbers, fortune and a seven-point surplus firmly on Chelsea’s side – not to mention the leading goalscorer, Diego Costa and the leading creator, Cesc Fabregas, in the division- losing the Premier League title now would constitute the biggest disappointment of Jose Mourinho’s managerial career thus far – which, quite frankly, just doesn’t sound very Jose Mourinho.
The pressure will unequivocally increase around Stamford Bridge in the coming weeks and Chelsea too, could soon get caught up in the European title race. But much like their manager, the Blues thrive most when their backs are to the wall – handling the pressure and grinding out results at the business end of campaigns is part of their DNA.
Although a City comeback isn’t outside the realms of possibility just yet, in my opinion, a Chelsea capitulation at this stage of the season certainly is.