Chelsea F.C.’s manager Jose Mourinho has long downplayed his teams’ chances. Just last season when Chelsea were in first place in the Barclays Premier League for weeks, he took ages to finally admit the Blues could win the title.
You wonder how long it will take this season for Mourinho to admit Chelsea are in the driver’s seat.
It can’t be long, because between their statistical dominance in the league, to the parity that is keeping the teams behind him lagging behind, to the Blues having their best finishing striker in years, this season is Chelsea’s best chance in years to win the Premier League.
Whether you never pay attention to the numbers or only live by them, you probably know how mighty Chelsea are this season. In addition being in first place in the league to start October and one of only two undefeated clubs in the English Premier League, Chelsea are first in goal difference by a fairly large margin. At +12, Chelsea’s next closest competitors in the tiebreaker are Southampton F.C. and Manchester City F.C. (+7). The next closest after them are Arsenal F.C. at +4; no other team in the EPL has a goal difference better than +2.
And then when Chelsea play on the pitch, well, they’re kind of like champions. Chelsea have scored 19 goals—five more than anyone else—in just six matches, and have the top goal scorer (Diego Costa) and tied-for-best assist man (Cesc Fabregas’s six assists) in the league. An average of only 1.17 goals has gone through Chelsea’s net per match, and they have two clean sheets. In only one match (against City) have Chelsea not scored at least two goals, and four times have they scored at least three times. And in the 70th to 80th minutes, the second-biggest crunch-time period of matches, Chelsea have scored 28 percent of their goals.
Every other close challenger in the table has some statistical flaw. Man City have only outscored their opponents by a goal at home, the Saints have much of the same problem on the road, and Arsenal only have one league victory in which they won by more than one goal.
With such parity in the BPL this early season, it’s not crazy to imagine Chelsea’s title aspirations coming to fruition for the first time since 2010. Chelsea may not have a humungous point lead, but every other club is nicking and keeping each other down. Particularly, the other giants of England—Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool F.C., and Manchester United F.C.—have been held down at times by clubs generally considered weaker.
Liverpool won only a single point in September. Aston Villa F.C. and West Ham United F.C. beat them, and Everton F.C. drew against the Reds. The result is a Liverpool goal difference of zero and only ten goals in this campaign.
Arsenal have been held in check by small clubs almost as often as Liverpool. The Gunners only have two EPL wins this season, and barely won one of those, despite only facing one club in the current Top Four. They had to come from behind against the Toffees and Tottenham Hotspur F.C., and looked feckless when it comes to the midfield and finishing in the final third. They may be undefeated, but Arsenal have struggled to get easy points against feeble clubs and their defense is a mess on set pieces and breakaways; or in other terms, everything Chelsea have not done.
And yes, even after spending record sums of dough on transfer fees, Man United are barely in the top half of the table. They’ve been a stop-and-go team all season. They didn’t win a single match in August despite facing Sunderland A.F.C. (+1 goal difference) and Burnley F.C. (-7). And if that wasn’t enough to make you wonder if a big team like Man U can overtake Chelsea, they lost a two-goal lead against a Leicester City F.C. side that also have a negative goal difference.
So instead of overtly talented clubs like Manchester United (with Wayne Rooney, Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Robin van Persie, Juan Mata) or Liverpool (Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana, Steven Gerrard) or Arsenal (Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil) chasing Chelsea down in the league table in not only points but statistical muscle too, teams with limited success in recent years and far less talent—Southampton, Swansea City A.F.C., and Aston Villa F.C.—have to take that mantle. You may point to them as this season’s giants, swooping in and giving Chelsea fits like the Red Devils, Reds, and Gunners have done, but there’s always a problem when one predicts smaller clubs to take the prize in English football: money.
Even if Swansea, Southampton, and Villa keep pace with Chelsea for the next few months and their opening surges are not aberrations, they lack the funds to make big moves at the January transfer deadline. The big, rich clubs in England—particularly Chelsea—have used the window as a time to fortify and make a second-half run at the title when they trail the league leader. But the Swans, Saints, and Villans are almost completely unlikely to make financial pushes in January, especially since Swansea and Southampton already put in the majority of their transfer cash on new players in the summer. The stretch help likely won’t come for them.
And that’s precisely why Chelsea are strongly rooting for Liverpool, Man U, and Arsenal to continue to drop points. If these three—three of the richest clubs in England—continue to struggle, then the Blues hardly have to concern themselves with opposing transfer foes. By then, based on this start, they may have fallen too far from Chelsea to be major threats.
Manchester City are Chelsea’s biggest concerns and have done well to start the EPL season, but they have been held somewhat in check by the league’s early parity as well. The defending English champions have had some peculiar games in which they’ve dropped easy points. City’s lack of runaway form—something they had for most of last season—could open the door for a Chelsea club already playing at 100 percent. Despite so much talent on their roster, City only have a goal difference of +7. They struggled to scrape out victories against Newcastle United F.C. and Hull City F.C., and even lost to Stoke City F.C. at home. Through the early league season, City simply aren’t the offensive juggernaut as Chelsea have been.
They have Costa to partially blame for that.
Costa has helped fire Chelsea’s offense on all cylinders. Like any striker, he’s the beneficiary of a lot of midfield help, but he’s been exactly what Chelsea have needed to compliment their passing talent: a finisher. Since Didier Drogba’s decline, Chelsea have longed for a striker who can covert chances at a high rate. That has been the definition of Cost to start the season. Neither Fernando Torres, nor Samuel Eto’o, nor Demba Ba have been so clinical for Chelsea in breaking away from defenders and launching super strikes past opposing goal keepers. Costa’s shot accuracy has been effective, knocking 15 of his 21 total league shots on target and netting eight of them. Eight in six games. That’s truly Drogba style right there.
Costa may be an injury risk and many, including himself, predict his torrid start will level off, but his ball quality sets him apart in the Premier League. Few strikers have been as clinical as him. He may have a powerful midfield behind him that deserves more credit, particularly Fabregas, but just about every striker in England gets a big helping hand from midfielders. Costa’s standing among them is what Chelsea need to have a frightening offense, a quality they’ve lacked in long stretches in the EPL the last few campaigns.
There’s still huge treks of the season that need to be travelled, but Chelsea have not looked this much in control since before they won UEFA Champions League. Some other team, whether it has been Manchester United or Manchester City, has been the best in the league from Week 1 until the end, over the last few seasons. Chelsea have been in this spot before, only to falter midway into the season. But if the Blues continue to play in full stride—and there are practically no signs that say they won’t—then even Mourinho will be hard pressed to publically say Chelsea aren’t favorites to win the Premier League.