Chelsea need to shed flat-trac

Chelsea are strong contenders for the league title in 2007/8; this is despite an average start to the season and a hugely fractious managerial change in the autumn. It is to the huge credit of players and management that Chelsea have overcome these difficulties, plus the denuding of the team for the Africa Cup of Nations as well as the usual litany of injuries and suspensions and yet have remained competitive in the league.

There are plenty of clubs that would be blown off course in far lighter winds.

But now as we enter the business end of the season the tough games will come thick and fast, and Chelsea's record against the top sides needs to change if it is to win those big home matches against Manchester United and Arsenal to swing them to the top of the table.

In the 11 games Chelsea have played this season, against the other seven teams that are currently in the top eight, only 12 points have been picked up - and only two wins achieved.

Chelsea Record 2007/8:
Premier League vs top 8 clubs: W2, D6, L3
Premier League vs bottom 12 clubs: W17, D1, L0

In simple terms Chelsea has bullied the poorer teams into submission; but has then struggled to put away the top teams. Chelsea are fine on a flat track, but when the bounce gets variable Chelsea struggle.

But perhaps the other top sides struggle in the big matches? The statistics don't back this up, this is Manchester United's comparison:

Manchester United Record 2007/8:
Premier League vs top 8 clubs: W7, D2, L0
Premier League vs bottom 12 clubs: W14, D2, L4

The league leaders record is actually better against the good teams than against the weaker ones; perhaps suggesting a team that can raise its game when the stakes are higher?

In the Cup competitions Chelsea's overall record is good, with a run to the final of the League Cup - even if Chelsea were then quite poor; and to the last eight of the FA Cup before a tame elimination. In the Champions' League Chelsea remain unbeaten and with a favourable draw will expect to make up an all-English semi-final with Liverpool or Arsenal.

Many teams have won the title by winning the winnable games and letting the other contenders trip over each other; but unless Chelsea can get at least one win from the games against Manchester United and Arsenal they are likely to drift off the pace. Starting this Sunday Chelsea can attempt to shed the flat-track-bully theory - or they may be left to concentrate on the Champions' League competition.