Football

Chelsea one of many champions to lull in title-defending season

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Chelsea and Juventus will be desperate to get back to winning ways after the international break as the defending champions in England and Italy respectively struggle to justify their pre-season billing as favourites to retain their respective crowns.

Successive defeats left The Old Lady propping up Serie A, whilst Stamford Bridge has been a long way from the fortress of past seasons under manager Jose Mourinho this campaign.

But these struggling champions are far from alone in major football leagues this season. For many, the laurels of victory have turned into a crown of thorns. Perhaps the worst case is in Brazil, where 2014 winners Cruzeiro occupy 15th place, at serious risk of relegation with 16 games left to play.

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Red Bull Salzburg of Austria are similarly struggling like Cruzeiro, and find themselves languishing in mid-table after seven games despite emerging champions in the Austrian Bundesliga for the last two seasons. Both clubs have seen their star strikers snaffled by Chinese moneybags Guangzhou Evergrande, with Alan Carvalho (Red Bull) and Ricardo Goulart (Cruzeiro) joining the growing Brazilian contingent under coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.

If finance is an issue for some, there are signs that the added pressure of the winner’s mantle proves too much for others. The extra responsibilities of Champions League qualifying seems to have distracted Hungary’s Videoton and Viktoria Plzen of the Czech Republic, both of whom lag well behind with their league seasons now in full swing.

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Others just seem to make a pig’s ear of being champions for no apparent reason - a category into which Norway’s Molde fit snugly, along with Maribor of Slovenia. If anyone knows how to mount a successful title defence, it's Maribor, having won the Slovenian league for the past five seasons, and yet a 3-0 home loss to Olimpija Ljubljana last month saw them leapfrogged by the visitors to fall nine points behind the leaders after eight rounds.

Some defending champions seem to be simply husbanding their strength for a canny late run. Sweden's Malmo seemed for much of this year’s Allsvenskan to be going down with barely a whimper, and yet a fine win over leaders IFK Gothenburg put them back on the fringes of the title race. Over in Argentina, Racing Club loiter menacingly within striking distance of the top spot after strong recent results.

Perhaps Chelsea and Juventus are simply biding their time, then, and it is instead in March and April that we should look to them to mount their sternest title defence, rather than in the opening bouts of the season.

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Chelsea

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