We are stronger this season but title race is wide open: Villas-Boas


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The Independent Football

Andre Villas-Boas believes his Chelsea side face their most daunting challenge yet in trying to win a fourth Premier League title in eight seasons.

The manager, though, is confident the experience of last year's mid-season capitulation will strengthen his squad's chances in a title race he believes is the most competitive in recent memory.

Chelsea's progress has so far been impressive in Villas-Boas' first season in charge with their record of 19 points from the opening eight league games mirroring the team's eye-catching start 12 months ago.

The comparison ends there, however, as this season their efforts have been overshadowed by the form of the two Manchester clubs. That in itself supports the Chelsea manager's view that the Premier League is much more competitive this season, although Villas-Boas believes his side's main rivals are not restricted to just United and City, identifying Tottenham as potential challengers.

Asked if he thought the league would be harder to win this year, Villas-Boas agreed, suggesting the task would be even greater than that faced by the club when Jose Mourinho led the team to back-to-back titles. "It's much more competitive," Villas-Boas said. "Not in the sense of taking away the merit of what has been done in the past. The second Premier League title that Chelsea won, it was nine games, nine wins [at the start of the season]. But more teams now look as if they are in title contention."

Last year Ancelotti's side lost their nerve, form and self-belief when they experienced an extended loss of form, understatedly described as a "bad moment" by the Italian who eventually paid for his failure to arrest the slide with his job.

The Portuguese, 34 this week, accepts he will face a similar test although having reached his 100th game (against Genk this week) in a brief managerial career that has been marked by almost continual success, he will be entering unknown territory if he faces a significant slump in form.

Villas-Boas, though, says it is the players' experiences of last season that will prove most significant in preventing a repeat.

"It's not about me," he said. "It's about the team. The team have gone past bad periods, as we spoke about last year with the two-month period when we couldn't get a winning result. This team has lived past that.

"Negative emotions always last in your memory more than positive emotions. You know exactly what impact that can have in your life, and you try and avoid it happening again."