Tottenham Hotspur reduced the gap at the top on Sunday, following Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat to Manchester United on Sunday.
The blues have suffered two defeats in their last four Premier League games, including an embarrassing loss against Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge. Conte’s 3-4-3 formation has been a tough nut to crack this season but Mourinho’s masterful plan dissected their desirable system and subsequently defeated the title favourites.
It’s worrying signs at Stamford Bridge, as a drop in form has occurred at the most important stage of the season. Tottenham have also won their last seven Premier League games and don’t look in any mood to stop pestering Chelsea in their own title pursuit.
Injury problems have also mounted in recent weeks with goalkeeper Thilbaut Courtois and left wing-back Marcos Alonso missing the Manchester United clash due to injury. Fortunately, Chelsea have the easier run-in until the end of the season on paper.
Tottenham have some very difficult games remaining, including the small matter of the North London derby, a trip to the defending champions Leicester City and a visit from Manchester United.
Despite this, Chelsea slipped up in what seemed a winnable fixture against Crystal Palace earlier in the month. This sort of complacency could seriously dent their title hopes and subsequently hand the title to London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Conte key to maintaining complacency
Chelsea’s Italian leader is a vibrant, energetic and eccentric figure on the touchline and their performances tend to replicate the passion and intensity demonstrated from the dugout. This was also very true in yesterday’s defeat to Manchester United.
The former Juventus and Italy manager was very subdued during the defeat and Chelsea’s performance cloned his attitude. They were slow to react to loose balls and continuously lost possession cheaply.
Manchester United had tactically outclassed Conte’s Chelsea and the playmakers Eden Hazard and Pedro were prevented from working their magic. The likes of Marouanne Fellaini, Ander Herrera and Matteo Darmian ensured that this was the case.
Due to the lack of service coming from their imaginative artists, Diego Costa grew frustrated and caused havoc off the ball. He received his eighth booking of the season and was fortunate to escape punishment for an elbow on Marcos Rojo.
Chelsea also desperately missed left wing-back Marcos Alonso, who was replaced by Cesar Azpilicueta. The former Bolton Wanderers star usually threatens in the final third with his attacking runs but Azpilicueta was more limited in his attacking approach.
They also missed Azpilicueta in central defence due to the pace of Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Marcus Rashford leaving the three-man wall vulnerable. On various occasions, Rashford made bustling runs in behind to force Asmir Begovic into action.
The catastrophic drama was unfolding in front of every travelling supporter and it could be the beginning of Chelsea’s title failure. It’s incredibly early to call a verdict on the title race but there are many signs to suggest that Chelsea could crumble under the pressure.
The Title Race is Well and Truly On
Chelsea are still currently in pole position to clinch the Premier League title in May, due to their four-point advantage. Tottenham also face tough fixtures in the closing stages of the season and this could work to Chelsea’s advantage.
Despite this, the blues’ recent drop in form has definitely sparked the title race back into life. Tottenham are in form, with eight wins from their last ten league games and only one defeat since the turn of the year.
Conte has masterminded a very strong title pursuit with his conversion to a 3-4-3 formation in October. It seemed invincible until Tottenham spoiled the party with a 2-0 win at White Hart Lane in January.
Both teams are also without the distraction of European football, although they face each other in the semi-finals of the FA Cup next Sunday. This will make the title race ever more interesting, as they will be sure to field their strongest teams for the remainder of the season.
If you ask me, I can’t see Chelsea surrendering the title to Tottenham and Conte will end his debut season with the Premier League title. However, if teams are beginning to crack the code of Chelsea’s desirable new style, this could also have an impact in the Italian’s second season at Stamford Bridge.