Following Chelsea’s 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace at the start of the year, interim manager Guus Hiddink claimed a top-four finish “[is] possible but there’s still a long way to go.” After following up that game with draws against West Brom and Everton those hopes appeared to be extinguished.
But victory at Arsenal last weekend has re-ignited talk of a remarkable transformation in fortunes and the possibility of Champions League qualification once again. Are last year’s Champions really in a position to surge up the table?
Club captain John Terry seems to think so, telling Sky Sports after the game at the Emirates: “If we can put a good run of games together and continue playing like we have done and show the fighting spirit we have done in the last few weeks we’ve got a good chance.”
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Now that may just be bluster from one of the club’s most staunch supporters, but he could have a point.
It’s no secret that this season is wildly unpredictable at the best of times. For all their troubles, the Blues currently hold the longest unbeaten run in the Premier League at seven games and will no doubt be buoyed by their victory over title-chasing Arsenal.
If the spirit and self-belief that Hiddink appears to have instilled in the players continues, the inherent quality in the side means they are easily capable of extending their unbeaten streak. Whether or not they can pick up enough points to catch the top four though remains to be seen.
The biggest factor in a rise up the table will be their form in front of their own fans. With only four home wins all season, the formerly near-impenetrable fortress that was Stamford Bridge is far from it these days. Even Guus Hiddink has yet to record a home victory, the win over Sunderland coming when he was still in the stands.
Both Manchester clubs, West Ham, Spurs and Leicester have all yet to visit SW6 this season and should the Blues recapture the kind of form they showed early on last season, there’s no reason they can’t pick up a significant amount of points from those games. At the very least they will have a say on who does or doesn’t win the league, which is something I guess.
Away from home they have no such trouble, only really Liverpool and Southampton providing the kind of opposition that could cause them problems, although anything is possible this season. But they’ve yet to even concede a goal away from home under Hiddink, the Dutch manager setting the side up deep and compact, playing lightning-quick on the counter.
So they have the belief, the quality, and could easily find the form. Turn a few of those draws into wins and the momentum could quickly begin to build.
So will they do it?
In truth, it seems unlikely. Currently 14 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, reducing a margin of that size in just 15 games would require something exceptional.
More likely is that they reach the Europa League places, the upper-mid table sides all taking points off each other and stuck in a mire of mediocrity. Fifth-placed Manchester United are only nine points ahead of the Blues and are imminently catchable. Whether Chelsea would actually want Europa League football next season is another matter.
So until it’s mathematically impossible, the players and manager will maintain the belief that they can claim a spot in the top four and qualify for next seasons Champions League. Or perhaps they’ll just go and win the thing and not even need top four!