It’s fair to say Chelsea have played the best football in the league so far this season, and despite blips in their last two matches, it has brought them good results. The Blues were deposed at the top of the table at the weekend due to a late Swansea equaliser at the Liberty Stadium, but the real ground was made up by Manchester United in the controversial match at Stamford Bridge recently. Had Chelsea won or drawn that game, and they were probably favourites at 2-2 until the red cards, then they would be in a very strong position in the league.
As is it they are behind Manchester United going into a set of fixtures Ferguson's side can expect to prosper in. Chelsea have also already played many of the big sides in the league, and beaten Spurs and Arsenal away but they have a tricky spell of matches coming up, with Liverpool, West Brom and Manchester City the opposition in their next three leagues games. Di Matteo’s new attacking team will be tested especially in the third of those matches, but so far they have looked good against almost all-comers.
The combination of Oscar, Hazard and Mata in their attacking midfield has been irresistible at times this season, and the Spaniard in particular has been astonishingly good in recent games. It was not surprise to see Chelsea struggle slightly without Mata at Swansea, and keeping him fit will no doubt be integral to their chances of claiming the title.
Another key factor in this will be how they address their current striker problems. Torres has looked tired and poor in recent games, and Sturridge has shown nothing to suggest he can step in to lead the line. Chelsea are reportedly keen to bring in Falcao or a similarly big name striker in January, and this could be one answer to their trouble. They could also recall Romelu Lukaku from West Brom, or even try Eden Hazard at the head of their attack. They certainly have options, but it is something they may need to work around at least until Christmas.
If they are either top, or close to being so, in January, the investment they may make then could be enough to force them over the line as Champions. However there are still questions over their manager and side. Will their front-loaded formation leave them too open, and if they do come under pressure will they abandon this ultra-attacking style? Is Di Matteo fully backed by Roman Abramovich? Finally, is there a chance that off-the-field problems will distract the players? With Terry now back from his ban, fans of the club would have hoped their focus could return purely to footballing matters, but the Clattenburg allegations will likely require attention for several more weeks.
However since the appointment of Di Matteo Chelsea have responded to all challenges admirably, and their new dynamic verve going forward makes them unplayable at times. If they can regain some momentum in the league, and if they pick up a striker of Falcao's quality in January, Chelsea may overtake Manchester United as favourites for the league, especially if they can put off-the-field issues behind them.
Can Chelsea win the league? What do you think?
image: © Jason Bagley