When Chelsea romped to the Premier League title last year, it was a blistering start that allowed the Blues to pull away from the chasing pack.
An unblemished start was what allowed Jose Mourinho's men to become champions, because although Manchester City reduced the gap to goal difference on New Year's day following Chelsea's 5-3 defeat against Tottenham at White Hart Lane, the psychological advantage of always leading helped them stay ahead.
Mourinho is the best manager in the world when it comes to leading from the front. Of his eight titles in four countries, he has led at Christmas on seven occasions, winning only once when trailing in December. Therefore, there is real pressure now on Chelsea to put themselves back in contention in this run-up to Christmas, which will get underway with the international break over.
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Chelsea suffered a humiliating home defeat to Crystal Palace before the break - and it was just Mourinho's second home league defeat in 100 matches. A humbling 3-0 loss to rivals, Manchester City, will cause further concern on the Kings Road, with doubts surrounding the form of many senior pros such as Branislav Ivanovic, Eden Hazard and most notably, John Terry.
What, therefore, makes this very moment so vital to Chelsea's title charge is that they face two very difficult games in succession, away at Everton and then at home to Arsenal. If Chelsea fail to win in these two games, the gap to Manchester City in first will surely be insurmountable. City's lead has already stretched to eight points and even that will be a difficult lead to whittle down for the champions.
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Chelsea must beat Everton this weekend
It is possible that Chelsea can get back in the title race. But one has to wonder if they can do so if, for example, the lead extends to 14 points and Chelsea lose both matches. Not only does this make uncomfortable reading from a mathematical standpoint, but there is also the psychological damage it could do Chelsea.
Chelsea are a very resilient club - as 2012's Champions League win made abundantly clear - but the spine from that side is vanishing, and if John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, the captain and the vice captain of the side, continue to struggle, then it is hard to see where the leadership will come from to arrest the slide.
Eden Hazard, Chelsea's PFA Player of the Season from 2014/15's title-winning campaign, has also failed to score so far this season, and he is another player who will have to be on top of his game, if Chelsea are to turn their season around.
It is always said that one cannot write a side off so early in the season - but the damage done in the early stages of the campaign can sometimes be impossible to rectify. A Manchester City lead stretching into double figures in September if Chelsea slip up in their next two games is surely an example of such fatal damage.
For Chelsea's sake, I hope that Jose Mourinho can find a way to make Chelsea the force of last season. One suspects his title defence rests on him doing so quickly.
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