A few short weeks ago, Chelsea had yet to lose under Maurizio Sarri and were sitting pretty in third place in the Premier League table, just four points behind leaders Manchester City.
Yet heading into this weekend's clash with Pep Guardiola's men, the west Londoners have won just one of their last four top-flight encounters and know that defeat would almost certainly see them slip out of the top four and fall 13 points adrift of top spot.
City, as relentless as ever, should prove too strong here.
To an extent, the warning signs were there even during the Blues' 11-game unbeaten start - and perhaps, in hindsight, beginning the season in such positive fashion unfairly raised expectations at Stamford Bridge.
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After all, the objective back in the summer was simply to secure a return to the Champions League after last term’s fifth-place finish, but Sarri did brilliantly to get his ideas across quicker than expected – particularly as he was only permitted to sign a single outfield player, former Napoli charge Jorginho, in the transfer market.
Chelsea duly responded with eight wins and three draws in the first three months of the campaign.
That record did not always tell the full story of their performances, though, and while Chelsea made it a dozen without defeat in a 0-0 draw with Everton on November 11, their all-round display did not please Sarri.
That was the case again a fortnight later as Chelsea were demolished 3-1 by Tottenham Hotspur, and although a 2-0 triumph over Fulham seemed to suggest they were getting back on track, the Blues then proceeded to lose 2-1 to Wolverhampton Wanderers in midweek.
The problems have come all over the pitch. Chelsea may still have the third best defensive record in the division in terms of both goals conceded and the fourth best in terms of expected goals, but the back four has looked vulnerable when opponents are able to steal the ball away from Sarri’s side for long enough.
The midfield balance still does not look right – the former Napoli boss has hitherto resisted calls to switch to a 4-2-3-1, which would seem to suit his players better – and neither Alvaro Morata nor Olivier Giroud has convinced up front, which is an exacerbated concern given that Eden Hazard has failed to score since early October.
Chelsea have only been shut out twice in 2018/19, but odds of 9/4 (Coral) on a City clean sheet look tempting given their recent bluntness.
Guardiola’s charges have encountered no such difficulties in recent weeks, with Tuesday’s success against Watford – their 13th win from 15 games – keeping the champions two points clear at the summit of the standings.
City have been superb so far this season but a dogged Liverpool side remain within touching distance, which means there is still little margin for error despite their fantastic start.
Last season’s 1-0 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge was a real statement of intent, and Guardiola will know that a similar outcome on Saturday – the same scoreline is available at 10/1 with Bet365 – would pile the pressure back onto Jurgen Klopp’s side.
There is, however, reason to believe that the pattern of the match will be different this time around.
Antonio Conte instructed his side to sit deep and play on the counter-attack last September, but that kind of approach is simply not in Sarri’s DNA; instead, we can expect Chelsea to press high and look to control the ball, which is exactly what City will be trying to do as well.
This is therefore likely to be a fast-paced, engaging game with both teams looking to go on the attack, but that does not necessarily mean there will be goals aplenty.
Indeed, City played within themselves when they visited Anfield in October, keeping possession without over-committing bodies forward – and although Guardiola will still want to win this match, he could adopt a similar game plan.
Chelsea’s poor form means Sarri will not go gung-ho either, so under 2.5 goals could be a wise investment at 13/10 (BetVictor).
Yet even if City do rein in some of their attacking instincts in order to protect themselves defensively, they should still have enough quality to win the game.
Chelsea are going through a tough spell and may grow frustrated if they are unable to have as much possession as they are used to, which is something the visitors to Stamford Bridge can use to their advantage.
Back City to triumph on Saturday (19/20 with Black Type).
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