Chelsea were cruising to a second Premier League title in three years until today’s shock 2-1 home defeat against Crystal Palace.
The Blues have conceded just 22 goals in 28 games, the best record in the land, and that has helped them open up a 7-point lead at the top of the table.
What is remarkable is that despite their defensive discipline, they are also the league’s second highest scorers, so fans have been treated to plenty of exciting attacking football along the way.
The only team to score more than Chelsea are Liverpool, who have 61 goals compared to Chelsea’s 59, have conceded an extra 14 goals. Whereas Chelsea keep it tight at the back, Liverpool play a gung-ho brand of football that leaves them exposed.
It is much harder to score plenty of goals when you are being disciplined defensively a the same time and while Liverpool might be exciting for the neutrals, it is not as much fun for fans, with Liverpool now 14 points below the Blues, having won six games fewer.
A BetDSI sportsbook review of the Premiership odds shows that Chelsea are favourites to win all of their league games for the remainder of the season, while that is far from true at Liverpool.
Ditto Man City and Arsenal, the other supposed great entertainers of league. City have conceded nine more than Chelsea, but still scored four fewer, while Arsenal have scored two fewer and conceded 11 more.
Huge credit has to go to Antonio Conte for his tactical masterstroke back in September. Switching to three at the back after the Arsenal defeat made Chelsea really difficult to break down, and they have conceded just 15 goals in 24 games since then.
But equally important is the way the new system freed up Eden Hazard, allowing him to run riot in attack.
Freed of the burden of tracking back and putting in a defensive shift, thanks to the energy of wing-backs Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses, he has been able to concentrate solely on causing havoc for opposition defences.
N’Golo Kante’s supreme energy in the centre of the park allows Chelsea to play with fewer midfielders than most teams – just as Leicester did last season – and he is hugely influential on this team, but the superstar is Hazard and he deserves to be vying with Kante for the PFA player of the year award.
Right now Kante is in the driving seat and leads the betting at 4/9, but there is still plenty of football left to be played and it is easier to catch the eye and generate headlines when you are playing further up the pitch.
Scott Parker won the award many years ago playing in a similar role to Kante, but the vast majority of winners are attackers. Hazard himself won it two years ago, and will fancy his chances of repeating the feat this season, making odds of 9/2 on him currently interesting.
Diego Costa would be another interesting option at 16/1 (surely it has to be a Chelsea player that wins the award, regardless of how well Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have played), but he is often loathed by his fellow professionals and that might count against him.
It is Hazard that Chelsea should look to build their attack around for years to come. He has the pace, the flair and the dynamism necessary to do it.
They can sell Diego Costa for a world record fee to China and reinvest. Defensively Chelsea seem sorted, although you wouldn’t bet against Conte landing Leonardo Bonnucci in the summer. That would be a real statement of intent.
He is also likely to need two strikers if Costa goes as Michy Batshuayi is not trusted by Conte.
Tammy Abraham is back from loan and Bertrand Traore has impressed, but they are for the future.
Conte would need established stars like Alvaro Morata and Moussa Dembele, and he will have the war chest to go for it.
Chelsea have been solid defensively and superb going forwards this season, but they cannot afford to stand still in the transfer market this summer. Spend big and they can dominate for years to come.