Can Chelsea Hold Their Nerve?
Chelsea surprised everyone by slumping to a 2-1 defeat against relegation threatened Crystal Palace last weekend and suddenly they are not 100% guaranteed to win the title. They have led for most of the season by a comfortable margin, but that defeat showed they are fallible, and Tottenham and Man City are breathing down their necks. The key question is whether they can hold their nerve for the run in.
The answer has to be yes: this is an experienced squad, the bulk of which won the league under Jose Mourinho two years ago. They were bolstered by the arrival of N’Golo Kante, fresh from winning last season’s title with Leicester City, and have looked absolutely rampant for the vast majority of the campaign. David Luiz has many titles to his name too.
These are players with a winning mentality. The likes of Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta, Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard, Willian, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have done it all before and know how to close out a title. Antonio Conte could not stop winning the title at Juventus and has kept up the good work in his first season in England.
Meanwhile their rivals have not shown anywhere near the same level of consistency and are likely to slip up again between now and the end of the season, paving the way for Chelsea to win a second title in three seasons. Tottenham have looked the closest challengers, but their away form has let them down and they will miss the services of the injured Harry Kane for the run-in. Man City cannot defend. Ditto Liverpool. Ditto Arsenal. Those teams do not have a chance. Man Utd draw too many games.
Chelsea will deservedly win the league because they have been more organised, disciplined and driven than their rivals. They have been better drilled by a better manager. The way he reacted to Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of Arsenal at the start of the season was a stroke of brilliance. Switching to his favoured three at the back, deploying Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses as wing backs and freeing up Eden Hazard to wreak havoc on opposition defences transformed Chelsea’s season and it has catapulted them to the top of the table.
After the defeat to Crystal Palace, the odds on them winning the title moved out to 1/8, but that still makes them overwhelming favourites. A review of the Premier League odds at Ladbrokes shows they are favourites to win all but one of their remaining league games. That one is the visit to Old Trafford on April 16, where they are slight underdogs. The odds of 15/8 available on Chelsea to win that game look very attractive when you consider how well they played when they beat Man Utd 4-0 earlier in the season. Jose Mourinho’s men have become the draw specialists in the league of late, so you could even cover yourself with Chelsea-draw double chance at 11/20. Apart from that Chelsea are tipped to win all their games and should cruise to the title.
They can afford to divert their attention to the FA Cup too. They have a semi-final against Tottenham and if they win that they will meet either Arsenal or Man City in the final. Having been the dominant team in England this season, Chelsea should fear no one. They have beaten Tottenham, Arsenal and City already this season, despite also suffering defeats, but now they will go into every cup tie as favourites and will certainly be the team to beat. They are 5/4 to beat Spurs in the semis and 2/1 to win the cup, achieve an historic double and cement Conte’s reputation as one of the world’s very best.