Ivanovic wrong! Chelsea not better off at this stage than in previous years

Branislav Ivanovic believes this season is Chelsea’s greatest opportunity to win back the Premier League title, but needs to check his numbers.

The Blues last finished top of the table in the 2009-10 campaign with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm, followed by a runners-up performance, a sixth place showing in winning the Champions League and a third place effort last season whilst remaining well off the pace in all three terms.

Sunday’s 3-1 comeback victory over Southampton at Stamford Bridge not only preserved Jose Mourinho’s 67-game unbeaten record at the ground, but pulled the west London outfit to within four points of leaders Arsenal ahead of Wednesday’s contest with bottom side Sunderland.

And Ivanovic is confident that maintaining current form will see Chelsea, back-to-back title-winners in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 terms during the Portuguese tactician’s first stint with the club, in a position to seriously challenge for top honours come May.

"This is our best chance [to win back the title] but we have to be careful," the defender said to the Daily Star. "We must carry on this way and fight for every game and every point.

"At this stage in the years before, we would always be trailing by a lot of points but we are up there now and this has given us an opportunity.

"It's a good thing when you go into each game feeling you are there and right at the top.

"We have improved as a team but we have to show it in every game."

Chelsea have combined flashes of brilliance with maddening insipidness at times, particularly in the loss to Newcastle in early November, yet have managed to come through the opening third of the campaign blemished just twice by defeat in league play.

A lack of steel in midfield has been an area of concern for the Blues as Ramires has been left to do the majority of the running as half of Mourinho’s double pivot, with Frank Lampark still a major contributor but lacking the legs he once possessed at 35, whilst questions have persisted about the viability of the strike corps of Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto’o.

Still, January awaits for reinforcements to arrive, and Roman Abramovich is certainly no stranger to splashing unbelievable amounts of cash in pursuit of glory.

Looking down the years, Ivanovic isn’t entirely correct in his analysis that Chelsea have been at a significant points deficit at equivalent junctures. In fact, on two of the three occasions in question, he’s entirely wrong.

After 13 games in the 2010-11 season, the Blues sat at the summit of the Premier League, two points clear above second place Arsenal and three in front of Manchester United, who would go on to eclipse the Stamford Bridge outfit to win the title with a nine-point cushion.

The next campaign was more in line with Ivanovic’s contention, as with the same number of matches on the books Chelsea trailed table-toppers Manchester City by nine points in a campaign that would see the Etihad outfit and their crosstown rivals blow away the rest of the field for a dramatic finish.

And yet last term, the west London side were just a point back from their situation as of Wednesday morning, sitting five points adrift of eventually-triumphant United in fourth place.

It’s of course doubtful, rather maybe unrealistic, that Ivanovic would know such details, but quite plainly Chelsea have not been far off of the same pace they’ve maintained up to this point in previous years, and the true test indeed lies in what is yet to come.

The Blues do have managerial stability, at least for the time being, on their side after two straight seasons of changes at the helm mid-race, with the boss at present possessing the advantage of having before won the Premier League as opposed to his predecessors.

Mourinho insisted on Wednesday that the pressure to win the league weighs most heavily on Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City side, but after nearly four years without a domestic top flight crown, Abramovich has undoubtedly implored the Portuguese tactician to lead his club back to the promised land.

And as of now the Blues are positioned to make a charge for silverware, but the real measure of the side’s title credentials is still yet to come as the long season drags on and the need to outlast opponents down the stretch comes to the fore.

image: © Jason Bagley

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