After seven games of the Barclays Premier League 2012/13 season, Chelsea lead the table by four points, having only dropped two of the 21 available points.
The blue’s early season form, built upon the tiki-taka style of Chelsea’s attacking triumvirate of Oscar, Juan Mata and the precocious Eden Hazard, juxtaposes the inconsistencies of last season’s Villas-Boas era. Yet with 31 games of the season still to play, are Chelsea really viable title contenders or simply impostors, warming the seat for the Mancunian heir apparent —whatever colour he may wear?
Interestingly, the current odds available belie Chelsea’s lofty stature.
Offered at 3/1 by two of the UK’s biggest bookmakers, Ladbrokes and William Hill, Chelsea remain third favourites for the league, with Manchester City at 7/4 with Paddy Power and Manchester United 9/4 with William Hill.
To look at the league table, this would appear a misnomer.
United, beset by a debilitating deficiency in central midfield, have looked toothless and lacking ideas at numerous points this season, and the attacking splendour that defined much of City’s 2011/12 campaign is yet to return.
By contrast, Chelsea have played like Champions elect, winning convincingly, winning tough, eking out points when they looked to be slipping away...Fernando Torres has even started scoring!
Chelsea last won the English Premier division in the 2009/10 season, under the astute managerial stewardship of Carlo Ancelotti. Before that you have to go back to 2004/05 and again, the following year in 05/06 when Jose Mourinho’s side broke up the seemingly incessant Manchester United dominance.
In the two seasons since Chelsea’s last league win, the Manchester clubs have traded the subsequent two available titles. United have not been out of the Top Two since the 04/05 season, and City, backed by Sheikh Mansour’s billions, have erected a delectable crop of the planet's finest footballers that is the envy of British football.
In contrast, during the past two seasons, Chelsea’s challenge has stagnated somewhat, to the extent that a sixth-place finish was all they could manage from a 11/12 season that was only saved by a quite amazing inaugural Champions League crown.
The team is one in transition.
With stalwarts Frank Lampard, John Terry and Ashley Cole reaching the tail end of their careers, there has been a visible shift towards youth at the club.
Manchester United have gone through the same scenario during the past two years.
With Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes looking towards the touchline on a more permanent basis, they too have looked towards a youthful new intake. It is a hard process for any club to go through, but for United, the process is mediated somewhat by the omnipotent presence of their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, and the incredible continuity he has provided for the side over the past 25 years.
This brings up another blockade that should impact Chelsea’s progression.
In Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea have a relatively unproven manager, who prior to last season's astronomical success had won precious little in the managerial game. With not even a year at the club—a year during which the whole balance of the playing squad and the style of play has altered—rationality would deem thoughts of a true title assault premature.
Yet, who envisioned Chelsea winning last season's Champions League?
The by-word for Premiership attainment is consistency.
Where cups can be won with a little luck here and there or a favourable draw, the league winner is always the team who has maintained the greatest level of consistency. Much of Manchester United’s success during the Premier League era has derived from this very characteristic.
From a settled nucleus of players, through the steady stewardship of the same manager throughout the premiership’s history, to the innate propensity to score critical late goals, United’s consistency has been rewarded by an incredible 12 Premiership titles.
This is essentially the crux of the distrust over Chelsea’s current status being maintained; can they maintain their consistency?
United will be there or thereabouts, regardless of the grievances over their squad depth, and City, with the team at their disposal, are always going to be heavily favoured.
Chelsea, however, are more of an unknown quantity.
A flash-in-the-pan team who will dine out on Champions League supremacy for years, while consistently failing to deliver a telling title challenge, or the real deal.
Opinion, it appears, is split.
For me, seven games cannot possibly be made to constitute a definitive hallmark of the season, yet Chelsea have certainly put themselves in the hat.
A game against Stoke a couple of weeks back defines the point. After 85 minutes, a drab defensive play in which the well-marshaled Potter’s had frustrated Chelsea’s attacking intent, it looked like the spoils would be shared. Yet, after exhausting the traditional avenues, Chelsea found their reward from an entirely unconventional source, as left-back Ashley Cole’s deft footwork won the match in the dying minutes.
It had an air of the United about it, and you cant pay a prospective title challenge a greater compliment than that.