After dominating the Premier League from start to finish, Chelsea looks to be on the brink of an era of dominance.
As far as title winning campaigns go, Chelsea’s effort this season has felt relatively dull. José Mourinho’s side has been criticized (with varying degrees of seriousness) in recent weeks for an overly defensive approach, but the real problem has been the near total lack of serious competition. Chelsea’s coronation as champions has felt like only a matter of time since about mid-November, and so the team has sort of just drifted along, the boring constant in what has at times been a very unpredictable season.
But we should not confuse dominance with dullness. And in three weeks, when the season is officially over, we might be forced, at last, to give this team some credit.
Chelsea currently has 83 points. If it wins its final three games (all winnable: at home against Liverpool, away at West Brom, and home to Sunderland on the final day), it will end the season on 92—and then we really will be talking about one of the most dominant seasons in Premier League history.
Consider: in 2004/05, Mourinho’s first season at the club, Chelsea finished on 95 points, a Premier League record. Arsenal’s Invincibles picked up 90 the season before. Alex Ferguson’s highest points total with Manchester United was 92 back in 93/94, and he broke 90 only three times in 13 title winning seasons. Whichever way you look at it, 92 points would be a serious achievement.
Still, even if Chelsea doesn’t win out (and when you consider it no longer has anything tangible to play for, those final three games, especially the final one at relegation-threatened Sunderland looks a lot more difficult) this has been a remarkably dominant campaign. Chelsea has been in first place since its third game of the season, on August 30—that is an awful lot of time at the top. So it has been puzzling how quickly this team has been disregarded by some simply as a flat track bully in an understrength league.
In part, that reputation can be put down to Mourinho’s reputation. Indeed, most rival fans have presumably forgotten the 6–3 win against Everton, the 4–2 against Swansea, the Champions League routs of Schalke (5–0) and NK Maribor (6–0) earlier in the season. More memorable perhaps will be those recent 0–0s and 1–0s against Arsenal and Manchester United, prime examples of Mourinho’s apparent refusal to attack the big teams. Some may even choose to forget the performances of Eden Hazard, who has matured this season under Mourinho’s stewardship into a genuinely world class attacking player. At most, they will say, this season has been a master class in winning ugly. But if winning while playing badly is the sign of champions, one wonders why so few people are ever impressed by the West Hams and Sunderlands of the world.
Like them or not, this Chelsea team looks set to dominate the Premier League for the foreseeable future, especially given the absence of any obvious challenger. Manchester City still seems to be overcoming its various cash-infused demons, United’s transformation under Louis Van Gaal is still far from complete (see: the past two weeks), while Liverpool continues to meander aimlessly towards the Europa League.
Arsenal is the only team to have looked like it might pose a serious threat to Chelsea next season, but similar things have been said about Arsenal before, and besides, even if Arsène Wenger manages to coax a complete season out of his squad, Chelsea still has the edge in terms of individual quality, while Mourinho continues to dominate his head-to-head with Wenger. All in all, it is hard to imagine what might conceivably happen between now and August that will prevent Chelsea beginning next season as anything other than overwhelming favorites. As it is, there is really only one question mark hanging over this Chelsea squad, and it is a strange one given the club’s financial resources.
In a mostly flawless season, two losses stand out: at home to Bradford in the FA Cup and at home to PSG in the Champions League. While the Bradford result can probably be written off as a fluke, the PSG result was a lot more troubling. Chelsea was criticized at the time for an overly defensive approach, but people seem to forget that it has dominated pretty much every other big game it has played this season (and last) using similar tactics—the problem was not the approach, it was the execution. Chelsea seemed to lack the bite, the defensive intensity, that has defined it this year—more than anything, the players looked tired. And when you consider the minutes some of them have played this season, it is really no surprise.
Six of Chelsea’s outfield player have started over 30 league games this season. Only two (Per Mertesacker and Wayne Rooney) from Arsenal, City, and United have done the same. Three of the top ten players with the most minutes played in the league this season play for Chelsea (Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, and Eden Hazard). The only other player in the top 10 from a team in the top four is David de Gea, a goalkeeper. No wonder, then, that Chelsea has looked so tired in the second half of the season.
And yet, here they are, on the brink of a genuinely historic season. If Mourinho strengthens as he should this summer and is able to provide his star players with the rest they need, next season could be even more memorable. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Edited by John Ray.
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