André Villas-Boas believes his methods are having an effect on Chelsea and has pointed to "a radical change" in the way the team have started to play, most notably in last week's draw at third-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
The Chelsea manager goes into Boxing Day's home derby against Fulham with his team 11 points behind Manchester City at the top of the Premier League but encouraged by recent form: Chelsea are unbeaten in five league games since Liverpool won at Stamford Bridge last month. Villas-Boas took particular satisfaction from the display at White Hart Lane in what has become a daunting fixture and has now targeted successive home wins – with Aston Villa to visit on Saturday – to end the month still in the title race.
"For me it's all good signs," said the Chelsea manager when reflecting on the comeback that secured a point at Tottenham. "Irrespective of what the result was, I think there has been a radical change in the way Chelsea play and I think it was fantastic to see that we could do that and have the ability to play this football. I was extremely happy with the performance individually and collectively, and the adaptation to difficult circumstances. For me, one point at White Hart Lane, against title contenders – because Harry [Redknapp] has made that public – was extremely good for us.
"We showed extreme levels of resilience and discipline without dropping our level of performance. And when we had the chance we played good football. We responded from our point of crisis with three wins in three matches and we have continued to build on that. Now we have found our route and, at Spurs, we played it to an extent that was massive. It was an honour and a privilege to see this team play football.
"Now it depends what we do in the other Christmas fixtures. If we get the six points from the home games against Fulham and Villa, I think it will have been an extremely good December. If you look at the table, it's a record-breaking Manchester City that is making the difference. In the Premier League we are not far from championship-winning numbers in terms of past seasons."
Chelsea will enter the transfer market next month, though Villas-Boas has ruled out a repeat of last year's extravagance at the same stage of the campaign when £73.6m was lavished on the signings of Fernando Torres and David Luiz. Instead, the Bolton Wanderers defender Gary Cahill will arrive for around £7m as he enters the final six months of his contract at the Reebok stadium – talks have opened between the clubs with a view to concluding a deal on 1 January – with the England centre-half effectively a direct replacement for the Brazilian Alex, who is on the transfer list.
Villas-Boas has defensive concerns given Branislav Ivanovic's absence with a hamstring strain and a knee problem that has ruled David Luiz out of the past two games. Yet he has ruled out recalling Alex to his starting lineup for the fixture having opted to make the 29-year-old train away from the first team in recent weeks. "We accepted a transfer request in anticipation of the market [opening] and we are not stupid people," the Chelsea manager said. "We do not accept a transfer request and put people training apart and then dial 999 and ask for help.
"We will stick to our principles and our values for the decision we felt was good for the club. That was the decision we felt sensible, and we will stick to it. Alex is extremely professional and has personal ambitions, which is why we accepted his request [to leave]). But we want everybody on the same tune regarding training, commitment, concentration and immediate club objectives.
"I don't think we will be very aggressive in the market: a central defender, for sure, is something we are trying to find. Injuries will play a part [in our strategy] and our squad will shorten by the departures of two players, Didier [Drogba] and [Salomon] Kalou to the African Cup of Nations, but we have to wait and see if we will need somebody else or not."
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