2-0 up inside 10 minutes, it was a barnstorming start for Chelsea at the KC Stadium this weekend. But being penned back before half time was certainly not what the had in mind, and Chelsea made hard work of their win in the end. To win the title this year, they’ll need to get out of their current ‘slump’.
I use that term lightly, though. Their ‘slump’ isn’t a big one, really. After all, we’re talking about a team who (if they win their game in hand against bottom-of-the-table Leicester) will be nine points clear of their nearest challengers Manchester City – a team whose recent ‘slump’ can very much be characterised as a slump!
Nine points means three wins, so if City were to win all their remaining games – easier said than done, of course – and Chelsea slipped up three times City could still retain the title on goal difference. That is, lose three times, though – draws would still be good enough for Chelsea.
The Blues do still have a few tough games coming up, though: Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool are all games in which they could drop points, and two defeats from these games would certainly make Man City interested. It would make the final games interesting too, and may make Chelsea nervous. The last game of the season for Chelsea is at home to relegation-threatened Sunderland – and all Chelsea fans (and Sunderland fans too!) will remember what happened in that fixture last season, as Chelsea gave up their challenge for the title with defeat.
These are all huge ifs and buts though, of course. Chelsea are in an enviable position, and they still look all but certain to take their first title in five years.
They may have something akin to the jitters at present, but they aren’t losing games and still managing to get results.
Just look at the Hull game. Although they scored a somewhat fortuitous goal, only Loic Remy’s fourth of the season, they managed to win a game that they looked to have given up on when they were 2-0 up. In the second half of the game, Chelsea had Thibaut Courtois to thank that they didn’t go behind, after the giant Belgian – surely the best in the league – made a wonderful triple save to deny Hull.
But Remy scored Chelsea’s goal and from then on, the rest was almost easy.
Going 2-0 ahead and losing the lead they had built was very unlike a Mourinho team. It was almost as if they scored their goals too early and were embarrassed to just defend the lead for 80 minutes. But when Hull came back, typical Mourinho kicked in again, and Chelsea defended their lead well.
By the end of the game, Chelsea’s team included Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Zouma, Matic and Courtois, and that is ominous for the chasing group behind Mourinho’s team. As a midfield and defence, that’s about as solid as it comes.
Hull’s best chance in that second half, even once they’d managed to break through the Chelsea defence, was still rebuffed three times by Courtois.
Mourinho knows how to hold on to a lead, and his side have a frightening solidity about them, even if Fabregas and friends haven’t managed to hit form recently, they have still managed to accumulate points. And when Mourinho has players like Kurt Zouma to call on when protecting a lead, it is hard to see teams managing to break them down.
Last season Chelsea didn’t have a lead to protect in the league. They were in the title race up until the final few games, but they were never protecting a lead. They were part of the chase.
This season they are defending a lead, and that’s Mourinho’s speciality. Chelsea’s aptitude at protecting a lead late in games transfers nicely into protecting a lead late on in the title race. They should be able to keep such a big lead intact until May.
It will be incredibly tough for one of the chasing pack to bring back their lead, just as it is always incredibly tough to peg Chelsea back after they’ve taken the lead late in games. Steve Bruce’s Hull tried valiantly, but this is a very-Mourinho march to the title, and I doubt they’ll throw it away now.