Antonio Conte has made few mistakes in his first year at Chelsea, but something he said in the aftermath of last month’s win at Stoke may have sown the seeds of Saturday’s home defeat by Crystal Palace.
Ten points clear with 10 games to play and seemingly bound for the Premier League title, Conte spoke for the first time about the number of points his team needed to clinch the trophy.
I think the Italian was wrong to do that. The target should only ever be the next match, and it hinted at a lapse in focus that came home to roost when the Eagles visited Stamford Bridge at the weekend.
Now we have a title race again. When you can see the finishing line, sometimes it can work against you. It can breed a little bit of complacency in teams, even if only on a subconscious level.
I see a lot of parallels with the 1985-86 season, when our Everton side led Liverpool by eight points in early March but wobbled slightly. In the end a Kenny Dalglish goal at Chelsea on the final Saturday of the season swung it Liverpool’s way.
Chelsea’s lead is now down to seven points and it feels like a self-inflicted wound. The Palace game was one they should have won, but when they were asked the question they faltered.
Momentum with Spurs
Tottenham, meanwhile, aren’t faltering at all, and momentum is everything at this time of the season.
Spurs look like they they’ll win every time they take to the field at the moment. They’re the only team in the chasing pack with the necessary grit to catch Chelsea – and who seem to believe it can be done.
They have kept their winning run going despite the injury to Harry Kane, which has proven to them that their form and conviction is not dependent on one player, even if he is their top scorer.
Tottenham look better equipped to go the distance this season, having ultimately failed to sustain their pursuit of Leicester in the final weeks of last term.
They have more experience as a result of that campaign, and they also have more depth to their squad, with fringe players such as Heung-Min Son showing they have the right mentality to come in and do a job.
Blues will drop more points
Chelsea now face a pivotal spell, starting with the visit of Manchester City on Wednesday, and I fully expect them to drop more points during the next three games.
While they also have to go to Manchester United later this month, Spurs have a trio of winnable games ahead against Swansea, Watford and Bournemouth.
City remain a work in progress and defensively suspect but they have enough threat to pose problems for Conte’s men and they’ll be desperate for all three points, having only drawn at Arsenal on Sunday.
Chelsea really need to win to steady the ship; if they were to lose two fixtures at Stamford Bridge in the space of five days they could be completely punctured.
How they respond will tell us an awful lot about them. But if I was betting man, with the odds as they are, I’d be more inclined to take a punt on Tottenham.