For the first time in a long while, Chelsea face Manchester City this weekend looking stronger than their title rivals, edging the pre-game hype as mild favorites to take all three points at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
The Blues have plenty in their favor right now, not to mention Jose Mourinho's remarkable record of never losing a Premier League match at Stamford Bridge.
It's a run that stretches back to his first season in charge in 2004-05, taking in a total of 64 matches. Much has changed in the time since, but as a psychological boost for his players, Chelsea's frame of mind with that record alone will leave them feeling stronger and more self-assured than Manuel Pellegrini's side.
Regardless of the Mourinho factor, this is a Chelsea team that is slowly coming together and is looking stronger than their Sunday opponents. They need to make it count.
Though both teams have struggled at time in matches this season, City have dropped points against teams many wouldn't have expected them to, which will be of a concern.
Indeed, as cliched as it may sound, the Blues have mastered the art of winning ugly—taking maximum points from matches where they were not as dominant as their manager would have liked.
That characteristic was a staple of Mourinho's first spell in charge at Stamford Bridge and while he is slowly finding his formula for the effervescent football Blues owner Roman Abramovich craves, that ruthless desire to carve out victories regardless of circumstance is alive and well among his current crop, too.
Pellegrini must be hoping his players discover a similar quality quickly, as, while we may be yet to reach November, suffering defeat to the Blues on Sunday will cast his team adrift.
|Chelsea's Previous 10 Fixtures versus Manchester City|
|Dec. 5, 2009||Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea|
|Feb. 27, 2010||Chelsea 2-4 Manchester City|
|Sep. 25, 2010||Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea|
|Mar. 20, 2010||Chelsea 2-0 Manchester City|
|Dec. 12, 2011||Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City|
|Mar. 21, 2012||Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea|
|Aug. 12, 2012||Chelsea 2-3 Manchester City|
|Nov. 25, 2012||Chelsea 0-0 Manchester City|
|Feb. 24, 2013||Manchester City 2-0 Chelsea|
|Apr. 14, 2013||Chelsea 1-2 Manchester City|
It will make the gap between the sides four points—a deficit not too drastic at this stage—but the psychological impact will be far greater.
Since 2009-10, City have enjoyed the edge in this fixture. Of the 10 occasions they have faced each other, City have won seven times, Chelsea just twice.
It's given the Blues an air of inferiority, but reasserting themselves and reclaiming their dominance on Sunday will be vital for how their season pans out.
Mourinho's return has led to many talking of this Chelsea team as title favorites merely on the back of his presence. We don't know just yet whether or not those assumptions were somewhat premature, but how the Blues perform come kick-off against City will go along way to determining that.
Lose and it may just dent their confidence enough for City and others around them to take the upper hand, realizing that even with the Special One back on the scene, the same vulnerabilities exist. Win, however, and suddenly Chelsea's return to dominance will look stronger than ever.
Forget everything that has passed in the Premier League thus far. For Chelsea at least, it's all been building to this. Facing Manchester United just three games into the season was too early to draw conclusions, but two months on we have a better idea of what the Blues are capable of.
Come through this and the scales will tip firmly in their favor.