Should they just hand the EPL crown to Chelsea now?
Spoiler alert – yes. Chelsea is too solid, too well managed, and playing too well for anybody to catch them. Sure stranger things have happened in the EPL. Leicester City won last year afterall….beating their preseason odds of 5000-1. But that was the one off for this decade and these things tend to normalize so don’t run out and put your money on anybody but Chelsea at this point.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Ok now that you have the short answer lets look a bit deeper as to just why the Blues are sitting comfortably at the top of the table. For starters, go right to the manager. Chelsea struggled mightily during the 2015-2016 campaign and fired Jose Mourinho and brought in Guus Hiddink. While the team did finish better, better is a relative term. Under Mourinho they actually flirted with relegation. Relegation and Chelsea are not allowed in the same sentence. Hiddink did manage to get the team up to finish 10th in the table. Still not good enough for Chelsea management or their fans so the interim manager was let go and they pounced on Antonio Conte. Conte’s contract with Italy expired and Chelsea went and got their man. And what a get he has turned out to be. As the leader of the orchestra, Conte’s Blues are in first place 8 points clear of second place. Until their recent loss to Tottenham, Chelsea had WON 13 consecutive EPL matches. An EPL record. But like any orchestra, while it takes a good leader, to keep all the players in tune, the players are still the ones that have to make the music and no doubt the Blues are making belting out some serious tunes. So have been the key players?
The Spanish forward has played 20 matches and has found the back of the net 15 times. Tied for the leaderboard in the EPL. And all 15 of his scores have been during the run of play (no penalty kicks). He flat gets the job done and seems to relish playing with Eden Hazzard.
The Belgian midfielder has appeared in 21 matches and has scored 9 goals good for second on the club and ninth in the league. The organization between Hazzard and the back line is what gives Costa the ability to find space up top. And Hazzard has some friends in the midfield in Fabregas, William, Moses, and Kante (he was my #2 transfer in the preseason article last July). Perhaps one of the best overall midfields in Europe this seasons.
The Spanish defender has been solid if not downright dominant in the back. Cool under pressure and able to collect the ball and quickly move it forward to start the attack. There are lots of defenders who are cool under pressure. There are lots of defenders who are good at linking the ball forward and not just making clearances. But to be able to cooly defend, collect the ball, and link with the attack is what makes a back complete. Cesar is a complete player and is currently 4th in the league in passes completed.
The Belgian keeper is currently rated #1 in the EPL for goalkeepers in fantasy points. Now certainly being atop the board in fantasy points isn’t the same thing as being the best goalkeeper as their are lots of factors involved. But for those who play fantasy sports you’ll understand that being at the top means you are certainly more than earning your paycheck. And he does have a league leading 13 clean sheets in their 22 matches.
So certainly with 16 matches remaining in league play there is still time for others to make a move. But to gain what amounts to a half a point per match is a pretty large hill to climb. Not only does some other club have to pick up the pace but Chelsea would also have to slow down. Probably not going to happen.
The more interesting aspect the rest of the way is the battle for the remaining spots in next year’s UEFA Champions League. Recall that the top four teams from the EPL this season will qualify for next years UCL. Currently, there are five teams within six points of each other for those other three spots. In order, Arsenal (47), Tottenham (46), Liverpool (45), Manchester City (43), and Manchester United (41). All of these teams have the players to make a run and get solidly into the top four spots. But ultimately, even if Chelsea falters out of the lead there is no way I see them falling out of the top four, which means that two of these clubs are going to come up short. Everton, currently is 7th place, is sitting at 36 points. Possible for them to make some noise but unlikely. The rest of the table, in the end are going to be happy with their position or fighting to avoid relegation but there is no realistic scneario where they can move up far enough to even make the Europa League next season.