And so the brave Chelsea finally lose.
After their dreary goalless draw with Sunderland last week, it was crucial that Jose Mourinho’s side got straight back on the horse with a win at St James Park this weekend. Sadly for the Blues, this did not materialise.
Instead, Chelsea’s 23-game unbeaten run ended, and the calls that the front-runners’ title win was a foregone conclusion were abruptly silenced. Make no mistake, the title race is on.
There had been plenty of talk over the last few months regarding the likelihood of the Blues emulating the feat of the Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ side of 2003/04, and there were many quick to throw their hats into the ring and declare that Chelsea were capable of that exact achievement.
Capable, they may have been, but in reality they were never likely to achieve that most unrealistic of ambitions. There is a reason that only two teams have managed the feat. It is exceptionally hard, and in a league that is more competitive every year, it was never likely to happen.
The question now is how Chelsea pick themselves up. After Manchester United brought Arsenal’s unbeaten run to a cataclysmic end, the Gunners went on to lose the next five games. Understandably, this is not something that can happen if Jose Mourinho’s side harbour serious ambitions of clinching the title. Should the Blues elongate their ‘blip’ with a poor result in their next fixture at home to Hull, alarm bells will be ringing. For a start, a loss would give City a genuine chance to go level on points with the West London club. But not only that, a loss to Steve Bruce’s side could potentially have a massive impact on the overall team confidence. We must not be melodramatic and suggest that a crisis is just around the corner, but we must also be realistic and admit that next Saturday’s date with Hull is a must-win game.
Thankfully for Mourinho, the Blues’ next three fixtures are all eminently winnable. A home fixture with Hull should – on paper – be relatively straightforward, while a trip to Stoke will also be regarded as an expected three points.
Straightforward these games may appear to be, but should Chelsea choke in the manner they did against Sunderland and Newcastle – and should City continue to improve – the title race could be all square by Christmas. It’s going to be a fascinating festive period.