Former Chelsea and England full-back Graeme Le Saux fears the Blues could find themselves as many as nine points adrift of the Premier League summit by the end of September.
Chelsea made an inauspicious start to their top-flight title defence with a 3-2 home reverse to Burnley on Saturday, while clouds continue to linger over Stamford Bridge following a summer of transfer window angst.
Le Saux has installed Tottenham as favourites for Sunday’s London derby at Wembley, and suggests further danger may lie in wait for Chelsea with treacherous showdowns with top-seven rivals Everton, Arsenal and Manchester City imminent.
Antonio Conte’s side slipped eight points behind early leaders City after six games last season, yet even if there is a greater deficit this term, Le Saux does not consider that terminal to Chelsea’s chances of a second successive coronation.
“It’s more than possible that Chelsea find themselves six points behind some of their title rivals on Sunday evening,” Le Saux told City A.M.
“It is also more than possible that any of the top teams get a little run going and open up a gap or be on the receiving end of defeats and suddenly find themselves six, eight, even nine points off the pace.
“Chelsea have to play Everton this month and Arsenal and Manchester City in September. There are some big games coming up for Chelsea and it’s a competitive league.
“It’s important to keep perspective, though. I also feel that any of those teams that we’d predict would be in the top four could easily go on an unbeaten run of 10-12 games.”
Chelsea are no strangers to a post-title slump and two years ago dispensed with Jose Mourinho just seven months after he lifted the Premier League with the Blues a point clear of relegation.
Le Saux believes the way Chelsea approach Sunday’s showdown will provide plenty of clues to whether there are deep-rooted issues at the club or their early season woes are just a temporary blip.
“There are more questions now than before Saturday’s game with Burnley about whether they’re capable of retaining the Premier League. That puts more focus on their performance against Spurs,” added Le Saux, who won the Premier League with Blackburn in 1995.
“There are quite a lot of questions with Chelsea but it would take a poor run of six to eight games before saying the pressure is significantly on.
“Key for me is how they perform on Sunday. Do they play with the unity and togetherness we saw last season or do you come away thinking ‘actually, there are things that need sorting out’.”
Despite a summer of record-breaking Premier League spending which has surpassed the £1bn mark, Tottenham remain the only top-flight club yet to recruit a solitary player.
Spurs defender Danny Rose made his feelings clear last week when he broke ranks to criticise the club’s transfer policy, although Le Saux believes Spurs are boxing clever.
“If you’d said to me that one team won’t buy anyone, Tottenham would have been the team I would have suggested because they’ve been building over the last few years,” he said.
“They’ve got continuity through the squad, they are all growing together and learning from the experiences of the last couple of seasons.
“In order for them to go one step further, do they need to go into the market and spend a huge amount of money on a ready-made superstar?
“They have been so close in the last couple of seasons that you think if they keep doing the right things for long enough then they’ll get there in the end.”
Graeme Le Saux was speaking on behalf of TAG Heuer to promote the TAG Heuer Premier League Pressure Test. TAG Heuer is the Official Timekeeping Partner of the Premier League.