One of the great things about starting a site is that no one can tell you what to write about. Well, apart from Tim, I guess.
I want to talk as objectively as I can about a subject very close to my heart: Chelsea Football Club, the greatest football club in the world.
They’ve been having quite a good run of things lately. They are on a tear, unbeaten in 20 games now, if I can count right. The last competitive match they lost was against Atlético Madrid back in April.
Rather like a pitcher in the fifth inning of a no-hitter, people have started to wonder if they can go the distance. Unlike a pitcher in that situation, however, everyone is openly talking about this.
The man who steered Arsenal to an unbeaten season in 2003-04 has even suggested that Chelsea could match that feat this season.
I really, really, don’t want to jinx the fine form that Chelsea has been in (especially when Diego Costa’s hamstrings have been co-operating), but I thought I would look at their chances of matching Arsène Wenger and his Invincibles.
Below are some stats I’ve pulled out on Chelsea after 11 Premier League games this season, plus the last three seasons they’ve won the League. I’ve also thrown in that unbeaten Arsenal season.
Check this out in Google Sheets where it’s far easier to read.
It looks like Chelsea are on the right track this season to win the Premier League and possibly match Arsenal’s Invincibles. They’re having their best start to a season since the 2005-06 season, where they won all of their first 11 games. The difference then was that the 12th game was against a strong Manchester United team, whereas this year, it will be against a mid-table West Brom team.
Chelsea’s record and goal difference so far this season are slightly better than the Invincibles. Chelsea have already shown some of the same qualities that made that team so good – eking out wins when you’re not at your best, or draws when you’ve fallen behind.
Arsenal finished the 2003/04 season with 26 wins and 12 draws. That means 11 games in, they had roughly one third of the wins and one quarter of the draws they would finish the season with. The key for Arsenal, then, was as the wins tapered off, they had to ensure that draws did not become losses.
Chelsea have started strong this season, but they have also conceded far more goals than at this point any of their title-winning seasons. Like they say in American Football, defense wins titles.
Chelsea have many other challenges they’ll have to weather to even attempt to win the league or go undefeated. Firstly, Arsenal had goals in Thierry Henry, scoring more or less whenever he wanted, but they also had goals in Robert Pirès and an anchor in midfield in Patrick Vieira.
In theory Chelsea have these same pieces this season – Diego Costa has been irreplaceable so far, and the pivot of Fàbregas and Matic has fed him well. They also have Hazard, a wild card who has contributed goals and assists already. But Hazard will need to convert more of his amazing runs and opportunities into goals as the season continues. Chelsea can’t rely on Costa as their only scoring outlet.
In past seasons, even when Chelsea played with Drogba as a lone striker, Frank Lampard was there to provide assists and late runs into the box to turn in goals. Chelsea need more of that work from Hazard or Oscar or Willian or Schürrle or Salah or whichever other winger/attacking midfielders they throw out there.
Chelsea’s defending has also been very un-Mourinho-like this season. They’ve conceded 3 more goals than their leakiest start to a league-winning season in 2009-10. Part of this seems to be down to inattentiveness late in tight games, which a trait more often found in the team 15 minutes down the Fulham Road. In their first two title-winning seasons of the 21st Century, Chelsea had 14 clean sheets in 22 games – that’s about 64%. This season, they’ve only had a clean sheet 27% of the time.
Chelsea go into the second international break of this season unbeaten and top of the league. Between the two international breaks, Chelsea were at their weakest this season. Assuming Costa and Rémy stay healthy, Hazard keeps up his Gareth Bale impersonation, Fàbregas continues supplying inch-perfect passes and the defense remembers how to defend, Chelsea have a shot at pulling off something special this season.
Shouldn’t be too hard, then.