Chelsea Focus – Title hopes rely on avoiding another late autumn stutter

Had Chelsea fans been offered 21 points from their opening 11 Premier League matches, the majority would have been hesitant to take them with any true gratitude. But, with almost a third of the campaign gone, that is where the Blues find themselves – sandwiched between slow starters Manchester United and surprise package Southampton in fourth place.

Manager Jose Mourinho is likely to be slightly dissatisfied with his team’s start, particularly considering the brouhaha which accompanied his return to Stamford Bridge, six years after vacating the hot seat first time around. With the two Manchester clubs also undergoing managerial upheaval, Chelsea will have hoped they could capitalise on a feel-good factor in west London.

But the honeymoon period was short. Mourinho had barely slipped into his Hawaiian patterned shirt, shorts and sandals when the Blues lost to Everton and Basel in September. The Ray-Ban sunglasses were immediately removed.

Chelsea immediately got themselves back on track with eight wins out of the next nine in all competitions, but the brakes have been applied again in recent weeks after a dismal defeat to Newcastle United and a heavily Andre Marriner-assisted point at home to West Bromwich Albion.

Ordinarily, these failures would be seen as too frequent for a Mourinho team; too common for a club with serious title ambitions. But Chelsea’s saving grace has been the underperformance of their rivals.

Manchester United have spluttered and stammered in the early stages of David Moyes’ reign, while their city rivals have been even more inconsistent under Manuel Pellegrini. Meanwhile, Andre Villas-Boas has been unable to assemble his undoubted attacking talents at Tottenham Hotspur into a cohesive, dangerous unit.

That leaves only current table toppers Arsenal and Liverpool – the forgotten sides of Premier League past – as the only remotely realistic title challengers to be able to argue that they have had a better start than the Blues. Even then, Mourinho can direct us to the points tally of the Gunners and how Chelsea are only four points away.

It’s reaching the stage of the season where the Premier League table begins to take shape. Last year, November was desperately poor for Chelsea, who failed to record a single domestic win as Roberto Di Matteo left and Rafael Benitez came in.

But for an excellent conclusion to the season under the Spaniard, that dismal return of points in late autumn – which included a defeat to West Brom and draws with Swansea and Fulham – could have ultimately cost the club a place in the Champions League.

Another stutter in upcoming matches against West Ham, Southampton, Sunderland and Stoke – regardless of the form of their title-chasing rivals – could bring the campaign to its knees again.

See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on West Ham v Chelsea

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