Chelsea must take their chance to pull clear of the pack in the next few weeks

The loss to Manchester City might have left Chelsea fans worried they would be dragged into a battle to claim a top four place this season, but if they take full advantage of a favourable fixture list, they can move clear of their rivals.

Stamford Bridge is not a happy place at the moment. Less than 12 months after a fantastic FA Cup and Champions League double, Chelsea are now a club divided, with an incredibly unpopular manager in charge of a side that has already fallen out of contention in the Champions League and the Premiership.

The loss against Manchester City might have seemed to also plunge the club into a struggle to claim a Champions League place for next season, but given their next five fixtures, it could be a short lived struggle. Whilst their rivals are gearing up for a difficult March, Chelsea should be able to move well clear of them going into the final weeks of the season.

The Blues next five matches in the league are West Brom (H), Fulham (A), West Ham (H), Southampton (A) and Sunderland (H). As the cliché goes, there are no easy matches at the top level, but Chelsea would be expected to pick up four or five wins in that period, gathering momentum and securing third place in the league.

At the same time, they can watch their rivals knock lumps out of each other, with Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Everton all playing each other in the same period. Everton also play Manchester City and Spurs visit Liverpool in the next five matches, meaning there's every chance that all of the sides around Chelsea will drop points in the coming weeks.

Of course were Chelsea to fail to take advantage of the fixture list, they would face a real challenge to get in the top four. Given the amount of games they have had to play this season already, Benitez will have to manage his squad carefully to ensure they do manage to rest key men during this period whilst also picking up wins. But if the manager can do this successfully, Chelsea could be nailed on for third or even second place come early April, leaving their rivals with far too much ground to make up in the final weeks.

images: © Jason Bagley, © Ben Sutherland

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