It’s not even Christmas and Chelsea’s bid to win the title appears to be over.
Saturday’s defeat to West Ham means the Blues are 11 points behind Manchester City, who have a game in hand over Antonio Conte’s side, and it will surely take a miracle now to retain their crown.
Conte’s men missed their chance to claw back some points and get closer to both Manchester clubs, with Marko Arnautovic’s first-half strike leaving Chelsea likely battling for a top-four spot rather than the title.
It was a very sluggish start from the champions and the memories of the league title from last season are already disappearing, as Andreas Christensen failed to spot the danger from Arnautovic as his one-two with Manuel Lanzini left him open to pick his spot.
Tiemoue Bakayoko is already being labelled an expensive flop at £40 million and he was hauled off at half-time as Antonio Conte tried to influence the problematic performance that he saw in front of him.
Marcos Alonso was next to go in the 55th minute as Pedro was brought on, with Davide Zappacosta making way for Willian shortly after. It was the earliest that Conte had made a second and third substitution in a league game since he became Chelsea’s manager. The visitors went all out attack with Pedro as a wing-back and a front three but still failed to score over 90 minutes.
Despite enjoying 72% possession in the second half, they were unable to get a single shot on target and have now dropped 16 points in as many league games this season – only five less than the overall number they lost last term.
Conte’s men have missed a big opportunity and they needed to replicate the form of last season to become champions again. They racked up a 13-game winning run which proved crucial in their title success over the winter period.
They had the opportunity and needed to keep winning as they have a run of fixtures between now and the end of the year against teams in the bottom half of the table. They failed, though, and they might want to switch focus to cup glory while they remain in all three other competitions.
Chelsea haven’t been awful this season – they are only five points worse off than they were at this point last term, but they aren’t good enough to compete with the improved challenge from the Manchester clubs.
Their signings have been one step backwards and, while their team is slightly younger, we will have to wait and see whether they will make those two steps forward. Chelsea’s squad also isn’t big enough and they were forced to play with an unfit Morata, who had a cold, as Conte hinted on Friday that several in his side were tired ahead of kick off.
Conte will need to mastermind success in the cups as the title looks beyond this group of players. They are outsiders in the cup competitions but they have a few players with great individual talent who could surprise teams on difficult away days.
The Blues lacked the mental toughness to take on this derby match in a busy period. More than half of Conte’s defeats in the Premier League have now been in London derbies while West Ham were in the worst form over the past eight games in the league.