After last season’s close run-in with Manchester United, Chelsea won the 2009/10 Premier League title by one point on the final day of last season. With their final three games coming against Stoke City, Liverpool, and Wigan Athletic, it never looked in doubt at that stage to be honest. In my eyes and betting accounts at least.
The 2009/10 Premier League trophy came to Stanford Bridge despite being manager Carlo Ancelotti’s first season in English football, key players including Didier Drogba disappearing to the African Cup of Nations midseason, a long-term injury to midfielder Michael Essien, and captain John Terry falling apart in the second half of the season after his personal life was published all over the news. Chelsea won the Premier League despite all the problems that should have prevented them from doing so.
To continue where they’ve left off from last season, Chelsea have opened this campaign with back-to-back 6-0 victories, albeit against relegation favourites West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic, respectively. But their victory at the DW Stadium on Saturday was three more points than they got there last season. A sign of Chelsea’s improvement? Or a sign that Carlo Ancelotti has more knowledge after a season’s experience in the Premier League?
Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda, Nicolas Anelka, and substitute Salomon Kalou have all made a bright start to the Premier League, despite Frank Lampard being relatively quiet so far (mind you, he still has one goal already). Chelsea have a frighteningly good attack and are capable of breaking the 100-goal barrier as they did last season. With 12 goals to their name already and 36 games remaining, William Hill’s offering of 11/4 for Chelsea to hit the century mark has got me betting.
Improvements from Last Season
Last season, Chelsea had difficulties defending set pieces. While West Brom and Wigan haven’t given us a chance to see if they have improved this season, the departure of Ricardo Carvalho is only an improvement in that area.
I’m still unsure of Alex’s defensive capabilities, despite a vast improvement last season and a good performance against Wigan. From set pieces though, he’s a big bald-headed defender who gets his head onto a lot of balls. Along with Didier Drogba, Branislav Ivanovic, and John Terry in there, there shouldn’t be too many opponents getting their heads onto a lot of crosses against Chelsea this season, even if Petr Cech doesn’t fill his defence with confidence in dealing with them.
Joe Cole has gone and the reliable and consistent Yossi Benayoun has come in. Benayoun is an improvement to the squad, provided he doesn’t get upset about being a backup—given his vocal frustration at not being a regular under Rafa Benitez—after signing for Chelsea.
With Florent Malouda flourishing under Ancelotti, Benayoun will spend the season competing with Nicolas Anelka on the right for a place in the starting lineup. The French forward who is on an 18-game suspension with his national team scored a brace at the weekend after struggling for goals in 2010 last season. Chelsea have been linked to Brazilian’s Neymar and Kaka in recent times with question marks raised over Anelka.
There’s still question marks over the defence. Will John Terry re-find his form of old this season? Is Alex good enough against the top players? Should Paulo Ferreira still be in the Premier League? Is Petr Cech overrated?
Those questions will be answered as the season progresses. I do believe they have the best full back pairing in the Premier League with Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole on either flank. Michael Essien also adds great protection in front of the defence.
Manchester United are second favourites this season. They’ve already fallen two points behind Chelsea, throwing away victory at Fulham on Sunday. Once again not winning without Wayne Rooney. Dimitar Berbatov failed to deliver at the weekend and Javier Hernandez had a quiet game.
Do United have the fire power to compete with Chelsea? Carlo Ancelotti and the Blues also did the double over Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United last season. Without Rio Ferdinand, the defence looks vulnerable. The midfield is relying on an ageing Paul Scholes at the moment, and there’s question marks over the attack. United look weaker than they did two seasons ago and failing to pick up points against the likes of Fulham is going to hurt them this season. They’ll be the ones needing to do the double over Chelsea if they want to finish on top of the league. That seems unlikely.
Arsenal are third favourites. There’s no doubt they have a quality midfield. And when Robin van Persie returns to full fitness up front they’ll be a threat to most defences. But it’s their own defence that raises alarms. Even if Laurent Koscielny turns out to be a star (whom I already have doubts about), there’s no depth there. Also bear in mind they are competing in the Champions League this season.
The position that frustrates most Arsenal fans is their goalkeeper. No Premier League team has ever won the league without a top goalkeeper. Manuel Almunia is not one of those. His blunders this season, like previous ones, are going to cost Arsenal points this season unless Arsene Wenger finally breaks free of his stubbornness that has prevented him from going out and getting a new one.
Manchester City’s odds have fallen far from the 5/1 they were preseason following their 0-0 draw at Tottenham Hotspur on the opening day of the season. Currently, they’re a bunch of talented individuals and not a team. I too have question marks over this defence that was reliable on Joe Hart’s shot stopping last weekend for them to hang onto a point. The work rate of Emmanuel Adebayor and Mario Balotelli, or the lack thereof, in tough games is going to harm Manchester City. The discipline of Nigel de Jong may see City reduced to 10 men on occasions this season. The departure of Craig Bellamy may prove to be a foolish one. He’s more likely to get a league winner's medal this season than any of his City teammates. Manchester City will not be title contenders this season.
I firmly believe the 2010/11 Premier League title is Chelsea’s to lose. The quality at their disposal, the unit they have built, and the tactical master class Carlo Ancelotti has displayed throughout his career will see them through. A long run in the Champions League may affect them in the league on occasions this season, but ultimately, they will come out on top.
Chelsea’s odds have dropped to 5/4 to win the Premier League now, but with their next three games coming against Stoke City, West Ham United, and Blackpool, it may be best if you jump onboard now.