Chelsea finally have their first major setback. How they respond will define their Premier League challenge

Chelsea are only two points off the top of the Premier League and neither City nor Liverpool will go through December without dropping points.

Chelsea lost 3-2 to a spirited West Ham United but don't dismiss their title chances just yet. (Twitter: @ChelseaFC)
PUBLISHED: Dec 7, 20214 MINUTE READ

The sides on top of the Premier League table were – and are – seperated by so few points that whosoever dropped points would be slipping down the table. And that is exactly what happened with Chelsea this weekend.

Their 3-2 loss to West Ham United in the weekend’s opening fixture saw them lose their lead. Instead, at the end of the weekend, they now sit third, two points adrift of new leaders Manchester City.

It is not the result Thomas Tuchel and co. would have liked. The December schedule of the Premier League is notoriously packed; the more a side can avoid dropping points, the better.

However, Chelsea were outclassed by a West Ham side who were clearly up for the game. And as a result, they will go into the remaining December fixtures on the back foot.

Of course, the truth is that all teams will lose at some point. What will matter, in the long run, is how the Blues end up responding to this setback.

There’s also the fact that such a result had been a few weeks in the making.

Chelsea losing no shock

Chelsea’s recent run of form hasn’t been all that convincing, save the 4-0 win over Juventus in the Champions League and the 3-0 win over Leicester.

There were points dropped against Burnley when they conceded late to end the game with the scoreline at 1-1. Against Manchester United, a poor error from Jorginho saw them chase the game for most of the second half.

Even against Watford, they looked scrappy at times and needed a late Hakim Ziyech winner to wrap up the three points. Before that, Watford seemed to have done enough to get away with at least a point.

What makes things worse is that individual errors are creeping back into the defensive side of things. One of Tuchel’s biggest accomplishments during his time at the club has been making them a mean defensive unit.

The three-man defence, shephered by goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, have been tough to get past. Often times that has helped squeeze out wins where Chelsea’s erratic finishing might have harmed them.

That hasn’t happened too often lately though. Against Burnley, United and West Ham, the defence were overpowered at key moments and the attack again looks underwhelming.

There are issues to be sorted, most notably in attack. The defence has looked imperious enough that a small blip in form is understandable. But the lack of attacking cohesion is worrying.

It doesn’t help that Romelu Lukaku, brought in as a source of goals, is struggling to find the back of the net. The Belgian started life at Stamford Bridge well enough but injuries and a lack of momentum have since hampered him.

One gets the feeling that, should he get firing again, this issue will be covered up. But the other forwards – most notably Timo Werner – need to step up too.

Side still a work-in-progress

What is also evident is that the side, despite significant investment, remain something of a work in progress. This is down not to personnel but also experience.

A lot of this Chelsea side weren’t around when they last won the league. Indeed, of Chelsea’s last league-winning campaign, the only veterans remaining are Cesar Azpilicueta, N’Golo Kante and Marcos Alonso.

Azpilicueta and Alonso are not first choice picks as things stand. Kante remains, on his day, one of the best midfielders in the world. But his fitness woes do limit his game time – and the ability to make an impact on a consistent basis.

Thus, as things stand, there is still a learning curve to be had as far as winning a league is concerned. Winning a cup competition – even one as big as the Champions League – can be easier due to the lower number of fixtures.

After all, a side that makes it to the final of the European tournament will also play a maximum of 13 games. The domestic league features three times those number of games.

This might seem like a reach, but know-how in such situations counts for a lot. Manchester City and Liverpool, for instance, possess that know-how having competed for the league so often in the past years.

City have won three of the last four league titles; Liverpool won one, but lost another (2018-19) by a single point. In essence, these teams are aware of the slog needed to win the league.

By contrast, most of Chelsea’s current players are talented but lacking big-time experience. The good thing, however, is that they possess a coach who is one of the best in the business.

Future not bleak… yet

The more cynical of Chelsea’s fanbase have already written off their domestic title chances. However, given the season is only 15 games in, that would be a premature reaction.

Even now, Chelsea are only two points off the top and neither City nor Liverpool will go through December without dropping points.

Such has been the competitive nature at the top of the table that these positions, as things stand, are representative only of current form. There are too many variables as of yet that will pop up; and upsets always can and will happen.

A loss of this nature is not something to lose hope over; West Ham have beaten both City and Liverpool so far this season, and are a threat to any side when on form.

But Chelsea can ill-afford to lose more ground. The focus now should be on working out the chinks in their armour and – if necessary – grind out a few results.

Should that not happen, only then should proclamations of a two-horse race be freely offered up.



WRITTEN BY
Shayne Dias

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