Premiership history suggests that any club attempting to overhaul both Manchester United and Arsenal will be left choking in their slipstream but Chelsea, contrary to their reputation for flakiness, are refusing to surrender the chase.
Last night's defeat of Portsmouth at Fratton Park enabled them, with Middlesbrough's unexpected assistance, to draw within a point of Manchester United. They immediately turned their attention to Arsenal, who remain six points distant but visit Stamford Bridge in a fortnight's time.
Reflecting first on United's shock defeat to Boro, John Terry, the Chelsea captain, said: "That is a great result for us, especially as it was at Old Trafford." He added: "We had to win because of what Arsenal did. It will be a massive game against them. Arsenal are a great team but the way we are playing at the moment there is no reason we can't beat them."
Much attention has been focused on the sheer number of players purchased under Roman Abramovich but during the transfer window Claudio Ranieri was able to concentrate on quality rather than quantity. While the Portsmouth manager, Harry Redknapp, brought in seven players, Ranieri signed one. The difference is that Scott Parker cost £10m while "the magnificent seven", as the Portsmouth programme billed their recruits, cost little more than loose change.
The distinction counted as Parker, on his second appearance, scored the first goal after 17 minutes. Parker was deservedly resting in the dug-out by the time Hernan Crespo marked his return from injury by settling the match 12 minutes from time, but his presence had been significant. So, too, is his absence, for Charlton have lost all three games since he left.
While Chelsea looked forward with optimism, Portsmouth's season remains a struggle, their problems compounded by yet more injuries. Patrick Berger suffered a potentially serious one to his troublesome knee during the match while Steve Stone, a planned substitute, suffered a stress fracture during the warm-up.
Pompey have not beaten Chelsea in a League match at Fratton Park. More relevant, they hoped, was that they had scored an average of two goals a game at home this season. Buoyed by that record, three of Redknapp's new signings and the return of Nigel Quashie and Amdy Fayé, they approached the game positively.
But with Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele quickly taking charge of midfield, Chelsea twice went close early on, Adrian Mutu almost turning in a Wayne Bridge cross, then Jesper Gronkjaer flashing a shot past the far post soon afterwards.
Under this pressure Portsmouth's concentration lapsed. Parker and Mutu, left unmarked as Bridge launched another attack, were able to exchange passes before the new man drove high into the net from close range.
The comfort with which this lead had been acquired, and the way Pompey had crumbled at the Bridge, must have played on Chelsea's subconscious for they eased up. Aiyegbeni Yakubu should have punished them when Neil Sullivan's clearance struck Terry but he blazed over.
Then Berger, from 30 yards, bent a left-foot shot round the goalkeeper but against the far post. As half-time approached, Yakubu at least hit the target but found Sullivan in the way.
After the break Redknapp switched to 4-3-3, yet his team could only muster a deflected Eyal Berkovic free-kick and another wide header from Yakubu. Inevitably their pressure left gaps in defence and, a minute after being booked for diving, Crespo chested in Chelsea's second after Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, on the counter-attack, had seen his lob hit the bar.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): Hislop 5; Primus 5, Pasanen 5, De Zeeuw 6, Stefanovic 5; Quashie 5, Berkovic 4 (Taylor, 85), Fayé 6, Berger 6 (LuaLua 4, 57); Mornar 6, Yakuba 5. Substitutes not used: Wapenaar (gk), Curtis, Hughes.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Sullivan 4; Melchiot 6, Gallas 5, Terry 5, Bridge 6; Gronkjaer 4, Makelele 7, Lampard 7, Parker 6 (Cole, 76); Mutu 4 (Crespo 5, 62), Gudjohnsen 4 (Hasselbaink 6, 72). Substitutes not used: Ambrosio (gk), Huth.
Referee: G Poll (Tring) 7.Reuse content