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Christmas Games vs. Swansea, Liverpool Are Vital to Chelsea's Title Hopes

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14: Ramires of Chelsea celebrates scoring their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on December 14, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2013

The fall out from Chelsea's goalless draw with Arsenal this week has been somewhat mixed—it was either a tactical masterstroke from Jose Mourinho or a negative move that has dented the Blues' title aspirations.

What we're referring to of course is Chelsea's switch of formations and their containment of the Gunners, who took 89 minutes to muster an effort on target, being forced into a limp display at odds with their form for the most part of 2013-14.

Chelsea played for a result, and they got one, hitting Arsenal on the counter after soaking up what little pressure was thrown at them.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 23:  Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal tackles Eden Hazard of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on December 23, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Imag
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

It would be embellishing things to suggest the Blues were overly dominant, yet they enjoyed the better of the chances at Emirates Stadium and were worthy of their point. Had it not been for some wasteful finishing, they may well have come away with all three.

Chelsea now sit in fourth place as a result, two points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool and seemingly well placed for a title push in the second half of the campaign.

Indeed, in the aftermath of that Arsenal point, Mourinho has his team right where he wants them—applying pressure and within touching distance of top spot.

It's why Chelsea cannot come away with anything less than maximum points from their two Christmas fixtures when they first entertain Swansea City on Boxing Day, with Liverpool following on Dec. 29.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 28:  Oscar of Chelsea holds off Leon Britton of Swansea City during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on April 28, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images

The appeal of the festive schedule in England is how things can change within an instant. From appearing clear of the bottom three, a bad couple of days can mean teams are thrust into a relegation battle.

Positive results in quick succession, though, can suddenly make a club title favorites or, in Chelsea's case, sit top of the table should those teams around them drop points.

We're at a stage in the season now that divides teams, making clear who is the hunt for what. With a favorable schedule over the coming days, Chelsea need to make sure it's the title they are chasing.

Swansea's form has been patchy this term. Injuries and a congested fixture list on the back of their 2012-13 success has meant they've lacked the consistency from 12 months ago.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 21:  Eden Hazard of Chelsea celebrates scoring his penalty during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield on April 21, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Visiting Stamford Bridge, Michael Laudrup's side are very much there for the taking, and a team with aspirations of lifting the title should be capitalizing on that.

Victory will set up a mouth-watering tie with Liverpool three days later, but with their tails up and at home, the Blues would have to be favorites against Brendan Rodgers' team.

The Liverpool fixture will be relished by both sets of players—not least because it's the first time the clubs have met since Luis Suarez bit Branislav Ivanovic at Anfield last season. It's also an opportunity to make a statement going into the new year, and rarely has Mourinho not taken advantage of such epic encounters.

Thus far, Chelsea haven't disappointed in matches of such magnitude this season, either. They remain undefeated against all of their rivals this season having played Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal away, defeating Manchester City in West London.

Drawing with Arsenal on Monday has helped Mourinho's men continue to build on everything that has come before and now we're at such a vital stage, they cannot afford to take a step back.

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes

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