Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane should serve as a wake-up call to the players that they are not invincible. Everyone knew that the amazing winning streak would come to an end at some point, but the fact that the Blues have now lost to three of their main title rivals is slightly concerning. Antonio Conte’s men need to learn from this loss and pick themselves up quickly, rather than let it halt their incredible momentum. With some difficult looking fixtures ahead, can Chelsea maintain their lead at the top of the Premier League or could the tides be about to shift yet again?
The Spurs Defeat
Spurs were in red-hot form going into the White Hart Lane tie, and are one of only two teams unbeaten at home this season. Conte knew it was going to be a tough test, as did the oddschecker betting tips page that predicted Mauricio Pochettino’s men would stop the Chelsea juggernaut. A victory for Chelsea would have made them the first team to win 14 consecutive games in a single season, but 13 in a row is still highly impressive and has only ever been done by Arsenal.
Unfortunately for Conte’s men they came up against a Spurs side who have an exceptional record at home and in London derbies under Pochettino’s stewardship. Dele Alli scored both goals, and has now scored twice in each of his last three appearances. The English attacking midfielder can’t be stopped at the moment and has already equalled his goal tally of ten from last season. Significantly, it took him 33 appearances to notch that many in 2015-16, whereas this term he has done it in 19. If anyone was to breach the resolute Chelsea defence it was Alli.
Perhaps Alli’s goals could be blamed on defensive lapses by the Blues, but the game was fairly even and could have gone either way. Eden Hazard snatched at his early chance when perhaps he should have brought the ball down and allowed himself a touch to calibrate his sights. Diego Costa was also slightly off the boil, missing a couple of chances and then failing to play in Pedro when the former Barcelona man was unmarked in the box.
Last time Chelsea lost it was to Arsenal, another main title rival. That harrowing 3-0 defeat at the Emirates actually served to galvanise Conte’s men and was the catalyst for their emphatic winning streak. Hopefully the White Hart Lane encounter will yield the same results. Chelsea get a break from the battle for the title for now while the league intermissions for the FA Cup, and it is likely that Conte will give most of his first-team players a well-earned rest to recuperate.
Testing Fixtures Ahead
The players will certainly need to recharge in preparation for a couple of crunch fixtures coming up over the next month. In three of their next four league games Chelsea will face the reigning champions Leicester City, their closest title rivals Liverpool, and Arsenal. If Conte’s side let the loss to Spurs affect them and they fail to pick themselves up they could allow their five-point lead at the top to disappear.
With the Foxes looking a shadow of the side that won the title last season, and star man Riyad Mahrez off playing in the Africa Cup of Nations, Chelsea should be able to see off Claudio Ranieri’s men. But Jürgen Klopp’s high-flying Liverpool will prove a much sterner test.
Chelsea lost 2-1 to the Reds at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season and may face an even tougher challenge at Anfield. Klopp will be without his top goal scorer Sadio Mane, though, as the summer signing is away playing for Senegal. It remains to be seen what effect this will have on the squad, but the way they coped in the absence of Philippe Coutinho suggests that Liverpool’s free-flowing attack can manage without certain components. This match has so much riding on it and will have the atmosphere of a cup final.
There will be no respite after that as Conte will meet Arsene Wenger once again, and this time Chelsea will be prepared to put up more of a fight. Following the two teams’ previous encounter (see video above), Chelsea were eighth in the table and eight points off then leaders Manchester City. At the time pundits were saying that Chelsea “looked broken” and that Conte had a seemingly insurmountable task ahead of him. The media were also talking about how Arsenal’s performance made them look untouchable. Oh how the times have changed, and when Arsenal visit Stamford Bridge in a few weeks’ time normal service should hopefully resume and the Blues will continue their excellent record against Wenger’s Gunners. These massive fixtures should be taken as an opportunity for Conte to show just how far his players have come since the identical sequence of matches in September.
Hazard Still in Line for Player of the Year
Daunting for other teams but great for Chelsea fans is the fact that they have possibly the best player in the league at their disposal. Eden Hazard has been in exceptional form this season and is frontrunner to claim the PFA Player of the Year award for the second time in three seasons. The Belgian has been involved with 28.2% of goals, has completed 74.4% of dribbles, and is firing off an attempt on goal every 33.8 minutes.
The 25-year-old has been threatening to enter the best form of his life as some of his skills and tricks have been even more breath-taking than two seasons ago. Conte’s 3-4-3 formation is ideal for the pacey winger as he has less defending to do and can attack with more freedom. Keeping Hazard at this level could be the edge that Chelsea needs to go all the way.
Costa Frontrunner for Golden Boot
One of the most important things in a Premier League title push is having a frontman who can put away more than 20 goals for the side. Diego Costa is well on track to achieving this and surpassing his previous record of 20 goals in his debut season. During that title-winning campaign under Jose Mourinho the former Atletico Madrid man only played 2,069 minutes of football, but this season he has looked fit and ready to go the distance. He has played the full 90 minutes in 14 appearances this term, and has been subbed off late in the other 5 starts. Conte is unlikely to rest Costa either seeing as Chelsea don’t have any European fixtures to contend with.
Having only failed to score in five matches this season Costa has been possibly the most consistent player in the top flight. Conte has clearly managed to get the best out of the striker and it bodes well for the title push.
Possible January Purchases
Although Chelsea’s squad is settled and working as a solid unit, Conte may feel the desire to dip into the January transfer market and seek cover in case of injuries to key players. There is no doubt that the club has the money to spend and according to The Metro, Conte is in talks with the directors as they look for reinforcements. Ricardo Rodriguez and Arturo Vidal are two of the big names that have been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge.
The Spurs defeat was unfortunate as the FA Cup fixtures will disrupt the league and Chelsea don’t have the opportunity to instantly bounce back. These next few weeks will be crucial but, with the fantastic work that Conte has done and the form of the top players, the loss at White Hart Lane should hopefully be a minor blip on the Blues’ path to the title.