Chelsea’s defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace has knocked the club nine points of the pace of leaders Manchester City in the early stages of the Premier League season.
The Blues stormed to the top-flight crown in the last campaign in Antonio Conte’s first term in charge. After a slow start to the season, Chelsea found their form and were unstoppable between October until May, dropping just 13 points in the process of the triumph.
Conte expressed his desire for reinforcements during the summer, and he was able to lure Antonio Rudiger, Davide Zappacosta, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater and Alvaro Morata to the club. However, the additions only offset the departures, which included Diego Costa’s unceremonious exit.
The Italian made no secret of his frustration at the lack of signings, with reports suggesting that he was close to leaving his role. Although those only empty threats as he took his place in the dugout for the Premier League opener against Burnley at Stamford Bridge.
The clash against the Clarets was a microcosm of the failures and frustration of the summer. Gary Cahill’s dismissal paved the way for a shocking defeat to Sean Dyche’s men, despite a second-half rally led by Morata.
Chelsea found their championship form to defeat Tottenham on the road along with Everton and Leicester. However, their flaws were exposed against Arsenal, lacking a cutting edge in the final third. They took those frustrations out on Stoke in a 4-0 hammering of Mark Hughes’ men.
However, the additional strain of Champions League football appeared to put the strain on Conte’s men in their loss against City. The Blues were outplayed from start to finish just days after an impressive win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
Worryingly for Conte, his side were flat following their return from the international break, becoming the first team to lose and concede at the hands of Palace this season. The Blues were beaten in the last campaign by the Eagles and the contest could simply be a bad matchup for the club.
However, the result has left them off the pace of City, much like last season. After Chelsea’s defeat to Arsenal in the early stages of the 2016/17 campaign, Conte’s men were eight points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s men.
As a result, the Blues should not be out of consideration for punts for the crown with odds having lengthened in recent weeks. Should they be able to put a run together, these odds may be as high as they will be all season.
Their ability to haul in City and the early frontrunners last season should be respected, with Conte’s experience in the clutch situations a vital factor. Bettors in search of value in the Premier League market might be tempted by Chelsea, with odds sites such as the totesport info page offering a number of offers in the wake of their defeat to Crystal Palace.
The loss to the Gunners was a watershed moment and inspired their title win, whereas City fell away after their bright start. Durability was an important asset for Chelsea last season as Hazard and Costa missed only a combined nine games between them.
Hazard came into the campaign recovering from an ankle problem, while Morata limped out of the clash against City with an issue. The additional requirements on the squad in Europe and the domestic cup competitions were one of the main reasons why Conte stressed the urgency for further additions.
The lack of depth up front against Palace was highlighted by Michy Batshuayi’s struggles, while in the midfield Cesc Fabregas has not enjoyed a stellar start to the term along with Pedro.
Radja Nainggolan was a known target in the summer and he could have eased the burden, while moves for Alex Sandro and Fernando Llorente also failed to materialise. Conte has another challenge on his hand to circle the wagons and inspire his team.
The race for the Premier League crown is a marathon not a sprint as proven by last season. He still has more than enough talent in his squad to achieve the feat. However, perhaps his own disgruntlement about the task ahead has made it far harder mentally for the Blues to master this term.