Chelsea’s bid to prevent the Premier League title race from developing into an all-Manchester affair suffered a huge blow on Saturday as both of their rivals at the top took full advantage of their shock 5-3 home defeat to improving Arsenal.
Their third defeat under Andre Villas-Boas, and first at Stamford Bridge since his summer arrival, was made worse by Manchester United’s victory at Everton and Manchester City’s triumph against Wolves, leaving them nine points off the pace.
The outlook suddenly looks rather bleak for the Blues, who have only faced two of the current top seven in their first ten matches – with at least six of those clubs likely to be there at the end of the season – and see those below them gaining ground.
Newcastle will overtake them with as little as a point at Stoke on Monday night, while Liverpool are just one behind, Tottenham three with two games in hand and Arsenal – having been ridiculed for a poor start – also only three adrift.
However, although Chelsea find themselves pushed out to 5/1 to finish first, they remain highly fancied to maintain their usual position among the top four at 1/12, with Arsenal significant movers in that market in to 5/4.
Given the west Londoners reputation as strong starters, the nine-point gap at the top is a major concern though, especially for Villas-Boas.
Five times in the Roman Abramovich era, they have failed to win the title, and on just one of those occasions did the coach who oversaw the disappointment last until the start of the next campaign. That was Jose Mourinho, and even he was gone six games later.
The other big story to come out on Saturday lunchtime’s clash was Robin van Persie’s hat-trick. The Dutch striker is 5/2 to be Premier League top goalscorer, despite now leading Wayne Rooney and Sergio Aguero, presumably on account of his past injury problems.