Five conclusions from the Blues' season thus far...
Schurrle & Salah under threat
Since the new season began in August, things could not have gone much smoother for Chelsea. Yes, Jose Mourinho’s men could have navigated their Champions League group slightly better, while the two draws they earned in the Premier League could quite easily have been victories.
But when you are undefeated, top of the league, top of your European group and into the quarter-finals of the only cup competition you have so far taken part in, you can’t really complain.
That said, there will always be negatives and, right now, two of the biggest are the situations facing Andre Schurrle and Mohamed Salah at Stamford Bridge.
As Mourinho said earlier this term, no squad is perfect. Chelsea’s, though, is as close to the perfect squad as you will get in the Premier League. But that has put pressure on World Cup winner Schurrle and winger Salah, with the forwards clearly not at their best so far this campaign. Does Mourinho give them extra chances to break into the squad or does he, as rumours suggest, offload them and pursue Marco Reus?
Straight back to the positives, however, and the form of Cesar Azpilicueta will have pleased Chelsea fans for the second season running. Like with Schurrle and Salah, that has left Filipe Luis on the bench. Perhaps it was the Chelsea boss’s plan to keep the Brazilian as a squad player all along – though, with a pricetag of £15.8 million, many would have expected Luis to start at left-back.
But that has not been the case, with the 29-year-old standing in well for Azpilicueta but the man Gary Neville named as the best defender in the Premier League retaining the position of Mourinho’s first-choice left-back. Branislav Ivanovic has also impressed down the opposite flank.
Matic holds the key to Fabregas form
Another top performer to have helped the Blues stay undefeated so far this season is Nemanja Matic, who is arguably still his side’s most important signing of 2014 despite the summer arrivals of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. The latter two have been obvious plus points this campaign but Matic’s superb holding ability has allowed Fabregas and co to flourish going forward.
What other sides wouldn’t give to have such a powerhouse in their midfield.
Mourinho masters the market
It was Chelsea, though, who brought the Serb back to English football – and no one else. Just like it was the Blues who brought Fabregas, Costa and more to Stamford Bridge. Yes, the west London side have the money and the influence – but they also have the common sense to buy the right players.
Due credit, then, must go to Mourinho. Manchester City invested strangely (and disappointingly) after winning the Premier League, while Arsenal and Manchester United blindly refused to plug gaping holes in their squads. Liverpool, meanwhile, did the very thing Brendan Rodgers promised not to do and spent unwisely over the summer.
Chelsea have had no such problems, with Mourinho (and the others responsible for signings) making the transfer market look an easy animal to handle.
It could be a very merry Christmas
Eleven games into the league season, the Blues have a four-point lead at the summit of the table. Southampton’s stunning form means that feat doesn’t sound as impressive as it could have done. But the fact that Chelsea have an eight-point lead over third-placed Manchester City paints a clearer picture.
And the key aspect for Mourinho’s men is that the picture could look even better come Christmas. Before the New Year, Chelsea face a favourable run of fixtures that sees them avoid the likes of City, United, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Southampton, by contrast, face three of the above in their next four games (and Chelsea at the end of the calendar year). City, too, have a smooth run-in (on paper) but are a huge eight points behind. How big could the gap be by Christmas day?