Over the course of the last few weeks, the levels of alarm and despondency have been rising steadily around Stamford Bridge. The Champions have thus far failed to really get going this season, with inconsistent team performances, off the field rows and key players out of form all combining to create a cloud of gloom over Kings Road.
However, I believe we saw enough in last weeks win against Arsenal, and the game on Saturday at Newcastle, to suggest that the Blues can definitely still be title contenders this year. Despite being eight points behind leaders Manchester United, the West London club have showed signs in recent weeks that this is a gap that can certainly be closed.
The possibilities of recovery were first seen in the win against Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League recently. A confidence-boosting 4-0 win, including goals for Diego Costa, Fabregas and Oscar, injected some confidence back into a squad that was badly in need of just such a morale-lifting result. Then followed the game against Arsenal, which was where so many of the hallmarks of Chelsea last year were evident; stoic defending, strangulation of Arsenals classy attacking midfielders, a goal from a set piece, and of course the incidents involving Costa, where Chelsea showed they still retain that streak of being horrible to play against.
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The clean sheet will also have done wonders for the confidence of a defence that has been shockingly porous at times this season, and the goal for Zouma will also have done him the world of good. It cannot be easy, knowing that he will over the course of the season have to slowly take the place of a Chelsea captain, leader and legend like John Terry, but Zouma will improve with time, and he already looks like he has all the natural attributes to become certainly a defender of Champions League quality.
A comfortable victory against lower-league Walsall followed, which even though it was not against the greatest opponents, all added to the confidence that a few victories strung together brings. Then we come to the game on Saturday. I believe this is just the sort of point that at the end of the season they could well look back on as a moment that helped define their season. To play so badly in the first half, to be 2-0 down with little over 10 minutes to go and yet to still draw the game (and come very close indeed to winning it), will give the whole playing group a lift – their never-say-die attitude and mentality of a determined, hard to beat team could well be back.
My point here is that what was missing from Mourinho’s men earlier in the season was not quality – the players have not suddenly deteriorated and become lesser players over the summer. I believe it was almost certainly just a matter of confidence, or more precisely a real lack of. The pre-season in which they did not win a game during normal time, a Charity Shield defeat by Arsenal and then a sluggish draw with Swansea all created a slightly gloomy atmosphere around the club, to say nothing of the now-infamous row between Mourinho and some of his medical staff, which did nothing to help matters and really just made things worse.
With a few excellent results and gritty performances under their belts, the whole club will have received a lift. The defence will suddenly realise they can still keep clean sheets at the highest level, and the goals scored against Maccabi Haifa and Walsall will prove to everyone that they can still be a potent threat going forward.
It will not be simple, but I wonder if at the end of the season we might be looking back at these few weeks as the time when Chelsea really arrived back in the title race.