[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or many years, the Premier League has sold itself on being the most competitive domestic competition in the world. “Anyone can beat anyone” is the widely used phrase, and more often than not that has been true. This year, however, one team has been head and shoulders above the rest.
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea have blown their opposition away. Rock-solid at the back, dynamic in midfield and lethal up top, their Italian manager has taken less than a year to build a side with few, if any, flaws.
Sitting 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League, it would be almost impossible to argue that they haven’t been the best side in the country so far this term, but just how good and how dominant are they?
The last 10 Premier League seasons have seen four different clubs take the top prize – Manchester United (5), Chelsea (2), Manchester City (2) and Leicester (1) – but where does Chelsea’s class of 2017 rank amongst these previous champions? Are they the best Premier League side for a decade, or just another championship contender?
First and foremost, whilst it may be slightly presumptuous to already be labelling the Blues as champions with 12 games yet to play, history tells us that their current position on top of the Premier League is a very strong indicator that they will go on to win the title.
In the last decade, 8 out of 10 leaders after 26 games have gone on to get their hands on the trophy, with Chelsea in 2013/14 and Arsenal in 2007/08 being the two to have let it slip from such a position. Barring a disaster of seismic proportions, we are looking at the Champions-elect here.
Premier League titles are built on solid, reliable defences. In the last decade, no side has finished 1st and conceded more than 43 goals, meaning that keeping average goals per game against at around 1.0 is of utmost importance.
In this area, Chelsea are performing remarkably well so far. Their record of 19 goals against in their opening 26 Premier League games is better than any of the last 7 winners of the competitions, and Thibaut Courtois’ 13 clean sheets are unparalleled.
The only title-winning sides to better Chelsea’s record during the last decade were Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2008/09; hardly shabby company for Chelsea’s current back 5 to be keeping, considering that United reached 2 Champions League finals during the same period and boasted iconic Premier League names such Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
In highly competitive competitions, success or failure is often decided by the finest of margins, and because of this conversion rates are key. The sides that are most efficient with their chances will undoubtedly rise to the top eventually.
So far this season, Chelsea have been more clinical in front of goal than any of the last 10 Premier League champions, with 21.9% of their shots finding the back of the net.
Star striker Diego Costa is currently operating at a phenomenal 29.6% conversion rate himself, but it’s quite the endorsement of Chelsea’s entire front line that they’re reaching levels which sides including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Sergio Agüero and Robin van Persie couldn’t.
In every Premier League season since 2002/03, the side with the best home record has gone on to win the league. It is a genuine marker for success, and for this Chelsea side to be considered one of the greats, their performances at Stamford Bridge this term have to be taken into account.
12 wins out of 13 at home so far is pretty much perfect, and becomes all the more impressive when considering that Manchester City and Southampton are the only current top half sides yet to visit Stamford Bridge.
Roberto Mancini’s 2011/12 Manchester City are the only side to have bettered Chelsea’s record across their opening 13 home Premier League games in the last decade, but with Watford, Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace and Sunderland being the final 4 sides to play Chelsea at the Bridge, there’s every chance that Antonio Conte’s side could match 95% win percentage City eventually finished on.
Ultimately, league campaigns come down to one very simple stat – points. Conversion rates, clean sheets and all the rest count for nothing if you’re not stacking up the points, so Chelsea’s haul over their opening 26 matches of this season has to be the real barometer for just how good they are.
A total of 63 points from their first 26 games of the season is, quite simply, outstanding. Manchester United may have just topped that tally in the 2012/13 season, but it’s clear that we are witnessing a genuinely brilliant campaign from Chelsea, and one, which few have matched during the last decade.
We have been lucky enough to see some genuinely world class sides in the Premier League, and there can be no doubt that Chelsea rank amongst the very, very best. If they continue to improve as they have done this season, the sky is the limit for this group of players.
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