Three weeks ago all the talk was of whether Chelsea might be invincible.
Then after a trip to St James’ Park – where Jose Mourinho has still never won a Premier League match – and a 2-1 defeat to Newcastle, suddenly they were not.
However, Nemanja Matic, fuelled by his side’s victory at Stoke, believes that Chelsea have enough quality in their squad to win a historic quadruple this season. The easy 2-0 win at the Britannia – where easy wins are almost impossible to come by – has given Matic added belief. That it should be him to make such a claim is telling. On Monday night at Stoke, where Arsenal were recently beaten 3-2, Matic made nine tackles. The centre-halves he protects, John Terry and Gary Cahill, made just one between them.
Matic has missed a single Premier League game this season – the one match his team has lost. If Chelsea look unbeatable, it is at least partly because their identity is clear. They have not had to cope with the sort of injury crises that have made the season close to impossible thus far for Arsenal and Manchester United. Even when all the squad is fit, there is a quite remarkable certainty about who will be in the team.
If Chelsea are to win it all, it will come down to whether that conviction can be maintained, whether they can ride out whatever injuries might come their way. In defence, they have scarcely any more strength in depth than a beleaguered Arsenal, a concern disguised by how indestructible their first-choice rearguard currently seems. It may not always be so.
“I think it’s possible [to win the quadruple], we have a chance so it is possible,” Matic said after the win at Stoke. “I don’t want to say that we’re going to win it but we’re going to try, we have quality – but also other teams, they are strong.
“We will try and we will see if we can do it. I am confident, I believe in my team, my team-mates, so everything is possible.
“Of course the quality of the squad gives us confidence,” Matic added. “We are Chelsea, we have 25 players ready to play in every moment. It doesn’t matter who plays, we play the same and we play like a team, like we want.
“It was very important for us to win against Stoke. We spoke before the game that we have to expect a hard match because they are a very good team especially in this stadium.”
Chelsea now host an in-form West Ham at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day, before a tough trip to Southampton, followed by a London derby at Tottenham on New Year’s Day .
“I saw them [West Ham] in a couple of games this season and I think that they are very strong,” said Matic. “They play very well, so I expect a tough game. But we have to take three points... I’m not scared of anybody.”
“We are title contenders. We are one of the best teams,” is all manager Jose Mourinho will admit, in a forthcoming appearance on BT Sport’s Clare Balding Show. “We are the team that plays better football and obviously big opponents, but we are title contenders.
“I feel we can do it. We are ready to do it, we prepared ourselves to do it. We really believe that we are going to do it. But at the same time, feet on the ground. You have to understand the country where we play.
“I think the level of competition in this country makes things more difficult than everywhere, but at the same time its more beautiful because every point is a point, every game is a game and every weekend is a weekend and emotions from the beginning until the end.”
Constancy is the one area in which Chelsea have towered over their opponents this season. It is a team that picks itself. The first-choice back four is clear. When fit, Cesc Fabregas and Matic start in the deeper midfield areas. Loïc Rémy and Didier Drogba know their jobs are merely as back up for main striker Diego Costa.
Eden Hazard always plays behind him. It is only for the two remaining places that there is any sort of contest, between Willian, André Schürrle, Oscar and Ramires.
Contrast with Arsenal, where Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla have spent all season rotating in and out of the treatment room and between different parts of the pitch. Then there’s also the likes of Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell and Tomas Rosicky, who are probably unhappy about their lack of opportunities.
When Manchester United beat Liverpool 3-0 earlier this month, not a single penny’s worth of their £150m summer spending started the match. But even if all of Radamel Falcao, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, Angel Di Maria, Robin van Persie, Ander Herrera, Adnan Januzaj, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini were fit, there is no established shape in which to fit them all, no certainty, no identity.
Even at Manchester City, who won 3-0 against Crystal Palace on Saturday without a single one of their strikers on the pitch, Manuel Pellegrini has not decided, for example, if it is Fernandinho or Fernando who is the preferred choice in that now crucial position in front of the defence.
Be it Porto, Internazionale, Real Madrid or in his first stint at Chelsea, when Mourinho’s teams are top of the league at Christmas, they win. If they are top after New Year’s Day it really will have become Chelsea’s title to lose. But for their rivals the second half of the season will surely be more predictable and more consistent than the first. For their part, Chelsea are surely due a little misfortune.
Lucky Blues: Mourinho’s settled side
Chelsea lead the table at Christmas but have benefited from a settled team after suffering few major injuries. Jose Mourinho’s side have used just 20 players in the Premier League this season – markedly fewer than their main title rivals – and have a larger number of regular starters.
Players used 18 (and two more as substitute); 10 players have made 14 or more starts
Players used 22 + one
Two players made 14+ starts
Players used 26 + five
Two players made 14+ starts
Players used 20 + six
Three players made 14+ startsReuse content