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Can We Already Crown Chelsea Premier League Champions 2014-15?

Jose Mourinho will tell you that, to date, Chelsea are nothing more than the “Champions of Autumn." However, he also once described the club Roman Abramovich spent more than $3.2 billion on as “a little horse,” so we all know he’s full of sh*t.

In truth, it’s difficult to see anything other than royal blue ribbons on the Premier League trophy come May, so dominant is the West Londoners’ league position and so clear-cut is their superiority to every one of their so-called title rivals. They’re steamrollering their way to glory playing a classic Mourinho mix: dazzlingly brilliant when allowed, ruthlessly cynical when required.

But in order to provide a modicum of solace for all the Arsenal, Man City, Man United, Liverpool and, yes, Southampton fans out there who still cling to their pre-season hopes and dreams, The18 attempted to scrape together half-a-dozen reasons why Chelsea could still spectacularly implode in their seemingly nailed-on quest for glory. 

We came up with three. 

Fit & Healthy?

Photo: @chelseafc | Twitter

It's fair to say that Chelsea’s squad has, to date, been as fit as a butcher’s dog. Jose Mourinho has used only 20 different players in the Premier League this season, and only 16 starters. Compare that to injury-ravaged Manchester United, who have been forced to use a staggering 31 players in their first 12 league fixtures.

In attack, Chelsea lean heavily on two players to provide their goals: with 11 strikes in 10 appearances, Diego Costa is streets ahead of next-best Eden Hazard with 4. Similarly, Cesc Fabregas has 10 assists and one strike in 12, meaning 37% of all Chelsea’s goals have come via the Spaniard.

An injury to either player would pose a new set of problems for Jose Mourinho. While on paper they have a wealth of attacking options (think: Oscar, Hazard, Remy, Drogba, Schurlle, Willian), last season would suggest otherwise: without their two Spanish summer recruits Chelsea were over 30 goals behind the pace set by City and Liverpool. There’s a reason Mourinho pushed for both men to sit out last week’s international fixtures for Spain.

In defense, Chelsea’s consistency and solidity to date is breath-taking: Courtois, Terry, Cahill and Ivanovic have started all 12 Premier League fixtures, while left back Azpilicueta has missed only two games. In an area of the pitch where consistency, communication and understanding are most important, Chelsea have fielded an identical back line in 10 of 12 fixtures. Again, compare that to United: van Gaal has been forced to use 15 different players in defense, including 19-year olds, midfielders and wingers.

So how would Chelsea cope with a spate of injuries to their back four? In our opinion, their squad lacks depth in defense. Although Ivanovic can certainly cover in the center, the only other recognized central defender is 20-year old Kurt Zouma: a player of great promise, but one clearly not yet trusted by Mourinho (0 starts, 1 substitute appearance). Similarly, having let Ryan Bertrand (on loan and prospering at Southampton) and Ashley Cole leave in the summer, Chelsea only have three first team quality fullbacks. 

So while Chelsea’s starting 11 is fiercely strong, they arguably lack the depth to deal with a congested run of fixtures. Which is exactly what’s coming up…  

Christmas Chaos

Photo: @adidasUK | Twitter

Starting with last weekend’s game against West Brom, Chelsea are beginning a festive period in which they’ll play 13 league, cup and Champions League games in the space of six weeks, or one every three-and-a-half days.

That sort of fixture list will test the resolve of any team, especially given the physical demands Mourinho’s tactics place upon players.

Mourinho has described the coming few weeks as “the special incredible marathon of football we face.” While all teams in the Premier League must manage a hectic schedule during the festive period (no winter breaks for us hardy/foolish Brits), Chelsea’s is particularly congested due to their continued presence in the Champions League and League Cup.

Chelsea’s wider squad will undoubtedly be exposed in the coming weeks, and how they fare will be key to the solidity of their lead: they certainly wouldn't be the first team to be broken by the strains of an English Christmas.

Bigger Leads Than Chelsea’s Have Evaporated

Photo: @SkySportsNewsHQ | Twitter

The history of the Premier League is littered with teams that have blown substantial leads in the second half of the season. Most recently, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United blew an 8-point advantage in the last 6 matches of 2011/12 to hand a first Premier League title to bitter rivals Manchester City. In 1997/98, Ferguson’s side squandered a 12-point lead over Arsenal in the last three months of the campaign, and most famously Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United went from 12 points clear of Man U in February to four points adrift come the end of the season.

So big leads can be blown, especially with three quarters of the season still to go. Chelsea are 6, 8 and 13 points respectively ahead of Southampton, Man City and Man United, so within range when considered in the context of recent history. But such a reversal not only requires Chelsea to crash and burn, it also needs a rival to string together a long (10+ games) winning streak. To date, the only team that has really looked capable of putting together such a sustained run of form is, well, Chelsea.

There are enough question marks against the depth of Chelsea’s squad to suggest that the 2014-15 Premier League isn’t over as a contest just yet, especially given the hurdles Mourinho’s men will face in the next few weeks. However, while we’re not quite in Biblical territory as comebacks go, it would take a brave person indeed to bet on any of Chelsea’s rivals putting together a run of form capable of overhauling the boys from Fulham Road.

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