Although Chelsea start today's home game with Fulham 11 points from the top of the Premier League table, manager Andre Villas-Boas believes there has been a "radical change" in how they play, pointing to their performance at Tottenham on Thursday night. Chelsea drew 1-1 at White Hart Lane, keeping them two points behind their London rivals, a performance which he described as an "honour and a privilege" to watch. Chelsea, he believes, have now "found their route".
Villas-Boas's striking optimism is based on the theory that he has found the right tactical balance at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea started the season playing ambitiously high up the pitch, but have moved to a more conventional approach recently, and have Didier Drogba fit again. The result, for Villas-Boas, is "extremely gratifying".
"Now that we have found our route – and at Spurs we played it to an extent that was massive – it was an honour and a privilege to see this team play football," Villas-Boas said of his recalibrated side. "For me it's all good signs. Irrespective of what the result was, I think this is a radical change in the way Chelsea play and I think it was fantastic to see that we could do that and have the ability to play this football."
That combination of the traditional Chelsea virtues of solidity and control with more imaginative attacking play is what pleased the manager the most. "We showed extreme levels of resilience and discipline without dropping our level of performance. And when we had the chance we played good football," Villas-Boas said. "For us to go out like we did in the second half and play the magnificent football we played, is something extremely gratifying."
Chelsea's form has improved this month: they are unbeaten in five League games, and reached the Champions League last 16. This despite the controversy surrounding John Terry's racism charge – it was revealed on Saturday that the club turned down a request from the players to wear t-shirts, à la Luis Suarez at Liverpool, in support of their captain before Thursday's draw with Spurs. Villas-Boas believes, though, that even their autumn results – when they lost high-profile home games to Arsenal and twice to Liverpool – resulted from "the events of the games", which concealed good performances.
"Our performances were good. I can never say that our performances against Arsenal and Liverpool were bad ones. They were good ones but the events of the games took us to defeats rather than wins," Villas-Boas said. "We went through good consistency at the beginning, when nobody gave us praise for the Liverpool performance or the Arsenal performance because everybody went to the results straightaway and defeats at home. But the performances were good."
With 11 points between Chelsea and the leaders Manchester City, Villas-Boas conceded that his team "threaten from a distance", but believes that, viewed objectively, Chelsea's record is close to being title-worthy. "If you look at the table, it's a record-breaking Manchester City that is making the difference," he said. "If you look at the Premier League we are not far from championship-winning numbers in terms of past seasons."
To close the gap, Villas-Boas knows the importance of two more League wins this year. "But it also depends what we do in the other Christmas fixtures," he said. "If we get the six points from the home games against Fulham and Villa, I think it will be an extremely good December."
Christmas football is difficult, and Villas-Boas suggested he may make changes for this lunchtime's SW6 derby at Stamford Bridge. "Of course, tiredness and time will play a part," he acknowledged. "I think we have enough time to recover but it is the festive period and it is important for us not to be surprised, to freshen ourselves a little bit and to provoke an extremely difficult challenge to Fulham, which is a Fulham who come to Stamford Bridge wanting to test us and take something away."