By Louis Gibbon
Reigning champions, one point off second, in a strong position to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League, going strong in the Carabao Cup. This is the state of affairs at Chelsea: not brilliant, but not bad by any means. As always seems to be the case in West London, however, you are only ever one loss away from crisis.
The season thus far has, in many ways, been a microcosm of the last 14 years since Roman Abramovich’s reign began, characterised by volatility but with a constant peppering of success throughout.
Beating Atletico and then getting played off the park by Man City three days later; winning at Wembley against Tottenham, but failing to come away with so much as a point from Selhurst Park; putting in a thoroughly impressive performance against title challengers Man United, only for the headlines to be dominated by an alleged spat between Conte and Luiz.
And, evidently, despite Sunday’s performance, there appears to be a shortage of cohesiveness and consistency at Stamford Bridge, not the mark of a potential title-winning side. The reality is City are miles ahead of Chelsea at this point in time, as their 1-0 win in October displayed.
But that is by no means a sign that Conte is not good enough or that Chelsea are in any form of crisis. In fact, City are just annoyingly good. They have spent an excessive amount of money over the last three years, and now have a squad of young world-class talent which is developing into something quite frightening.
Based on Sunday’s showing, Chelsea are not true title contenders just yet. In fact, all it showed was that they have just as good a chance as catching City as the rest of the top teams.
It ended the theory that the sale of Matic is somehow the reason for Chelsea’s underachievement, as him and Herrera were played off the park by Chelsea’s powerful three-man midfield. Bakayoko also showed his immense potential despite some recent below-par performances, providing the youth, exuberance and energy Matic could not last year.
Morata conveyed the fight and clinical instinct to show he is an apt replacement for Diego Costa, and Andreas Christensen showed more maturity than David Luiz has in big games in only his seventh start for the club.
The poor recruitment of the summer has therefore been massively exaggerated, and Chelsea have a young, strong, developing squad, with some great talent still out on loan. A top-four finish and a cup run would constitute a solid season, with high-flying City seemingly unstoppable.
However, this is Chelsea under Abramovich, where solidity is not deemed adequate. The outcome just described has seen only one manager retain their job in this era (José Mourinho in 2013-14).
The Chelsea story is never such a simple one, and, unless Conte pulls the rabbit out of the hat in Europe or the league, I strongly fear his days at the Bridge could be numbered.
Photograph: FootballCoin via Vimeo