Chelsea’s Premier League title credentials under serious scrutiny after United loss

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 05: Pedro of Chelsea looks on during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on April 5, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 05: Pedro of Chelsea looks on during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on April 5, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images) /

Defeat last Sunday to Manchester United means Chelsea face a tense finish to their Premier League title challenge as Spurs close in on their London rivals.

A month ago, Chelsea sat at the top of the Premier League, 10 points clear of their nearest rivals, Tottenham. At the time, Spurs were dealing with the news that star striker Harry Kane could miss a month of action through injury.

Meanwhile, Manchester City had been in the race for the title, but they stumbled to a home draw with Liverpool. Everything pointed to a Premier League triumph for Antonio Conte in his first season in England.

Now, in mid-April, Chelsea may not even be favourites for the title anymore. They still have a four point cushion at the top, and Spurs have a tough fixture list ahead. But on current form, Antonio Conte’s side no longer look like champions-elect. Their London neighbours do.

More from The Pride of London

Chelsea have won four and lost two of their last six Premier League matches. Spurs have won all six. If that trend continues for the rest of the campaign, Tottenham will be champions. How things have changed so quickly in a month.

Chelsea’s shock defeat at home to Crystal Palace at the start of the month did not even seem that dangerous. Chelsea perhaps needed a wake-up call. Following that loss, they battled heroically to a 2-1 home win versus Manchester City before making easy work of Bournemouth. It was as if the Palace result gave Chelsea’s players a reminder the title race wasn’t over yet.

They took full note of that reminder, at least until they visited Old Trafford last Sunday.

The performance against Jose Mourinho’s men was sloppy, poor and pathetic. Not once did Chelsea test David De Gea, and United’s makeshift team strolled to a comfortable 2-0 win. Only N’Golo Kante could hold his head high after that showing.

The Blues looked like a team defeated before a ball was kicked. They did not resemble anything like a side that just needed five wins to grab their second Premier League title in three years.

It was an unfamiliar sight for the Chelsea faithful this year, who are used to a more solid defensive organization from their team. The absences of Thibaut Courtois and Marcos Alonso no doubt played their part, but what excuse did Eden Hazard have for being so quiet? Or Diego Costa’s constant moaning and sulking?

In the next month, Antonio Conte will face his biggest challenge as manager. From winning titles with Juventus, to managing his home country in Italy, the 47-year old is staring down a new problem. Being overthrown at the top by the hated Tottenham, after holding a seemingly insurmountable lead, would create an unenvious legacy. Given Roman Abramovich’s record with managers, Conte’s job security could even be brought into question.

Action by Abramovich is unlikely, given how much of a fan favourite Conte already is. And it was easy to see just how much the defeat to United hurt him. Conte has rarely been quiet and subdued on the touchline in his time in England. Last Sunday there was even less for him than for the fans. His silence was deafening. There is no hiding from Tottenham’s surging title challenge anymore.

Chelsea’s next month of fixtures guarantee no victories. Contests against relegation-threatened Sunderland and Middlesbrough and top-half mainstays West Bromwich and Watford may look like easy three points, but so did Crystal Palace.

Next: Chelsea's John Terry announcement either cunning or boneheaded

Chelsea have shown they are capable of picking up points purely based on momentum, best demonstrated by their 13-game win streak. That run turned them from top-four challengers into title contenders. Over the next month, they will need to prove their credentials even further as they aim to become champions.