It would have seemed folly to have this conversation a few short weeks ago. But with Arsenal and Manchester United in hot pursuit and Diego Costa out injured, people are starting to wonder; could Chelsea let the title slip?
It seems highly unlikely, but not impossible. It’s a pity that neither United nor Arsenal could have hit their good form a few weeks sooner. A boost of three to five points for either team would’ve potentially made this one of the most exciting Premier League title races in years. But seven points clear with a game in hand; Chelsea can afford to lose two games out of the remaining eight and still end up as Champions in May.
But the path to victory is by no means an easy or clear one for Jose Mourinho’s Blues. For starters, they will be without Costa for the entire month of April. After a flying start, the Spanish striker has been hampered for much of the by a hamstring problem. The most recent bout of it saw him being introduced as a sub against Stoke City last weekend and then being withdrawn barely ten minutes later. While this is not the loss it might’ve been earlier in the season, when the team was dependent on Costa’s goals, it nonetheless puts more pressure on Chelsea and Mourinho.
Luckily for Mourinho, Costa is his only real injury concern. While Cesc Fabregas suffered a broken nose against Stoke, he’s been cleared to face QPR this weekend wearing a protective mask. John Obi Mikel has also recovered from a recent knee injury. He also has an in-form striker in Loic Remy and a number of midfielders capable of providing goals in Costa’s absence, mainly Eden Hazard.
But what’s also making things interesting is that Arsenal and Man United are two of the teams Chelsea face in the final stretch. Liverpool is a third. And while Chelsea still holds a commanding lead, it’s not as unassailable as it was. Arsene Wenger and Louis van Gaal must surely smell blood in the water, although both managers are playing it close to the chest. Manchester City too remains in the title race, despite having fallen to fourth.
Mourinho is nothing however, if not a master of situations like these. The building pressure, the teams out to get them, it all suits the Portuguese gaffer’s siege-mentality style. With no Champions League or Cup football to distract him, and just a handful of remaining fixtures to grind out, Mourinho can focus entirely on the league. During last Saturday’s narrow win over Stoke, it was clear he’s feeling the pressure. More than anyone, he’ll realize that any dropped points at all could invite trouble. After all, it’s happened before. In early May of 2012, it seemed like Manchester United was on its way to a 20th Premier League title. However Sir Alex Ferguson’s men went on to drop eight points from their remaining five matches, allowing Man City to pip the title at the last possible moment.
Barring an unforeseen crisis, it’s difficult to see Chelsea dropping as many points between now and the end of May. Again, difficult, but not impossible. If Arsenal or Man United can achieve results in their upcoming fixtures against the league leaders, they could make things interesting. Mourinho must concentrate his energies on not allowing them to do so.