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More than a two-horse race: Chelsea have what it takes to challenge the Manchester clubs

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1.71K   //    22 Sep 2017, 17:29 IST

Antonio Conte
Antonio Conte

You can be forgiven for thinking that the Premier League title will head to Manchester this time. But as much as this assumption looks tempting to accept, the season is still only in its 5th week and there are 33 games to be played.

The Manchester clubs have dictated the pace in the opening few weeks and both of them are tied on top with almost inseparable stats. The two sides have same points (13) and same goal difference (14) and goals conceded (2). The early form of these two giants of Manchester has somehow allowed a lot of pundits and analysts alike to forget or ignore the threat of Chelsea as title challengers and that is quite surprising.

Chelsea are currently 3rd on the league table with 3 wins, 1 draw and a loss, leaving them with 10 points. It is too early for anyone to write them off. They are the defending champions and still have a lot going for them in terms of the core of the team and the business done over the summer. Many have pointed to the lack of depth as a reason why Chelsea may not go toe to toe with the Manchester giants and this assumption too is not correct and here is why.

The Hazard factor

Of all the top teams in the Premier League currently, it is only Chelsea that started the season with their star player and probably the best player in the league on the bench and not fully fit. The argument of Sanchez and Arsenal here also does not cut it as he is a player on its way out and the Gunners don't really have a balanced squad. And we can even argue that with Sanchez, Arsenal did not make the Champions League last season.

Eden Hazard represents a vital asset to the Chelsea team, who, if and when he is not in the team, they suffer. He is the connecting plug of Chelsea and he is like a Barcelona without Messi; we all see how Barca struggle in his absence, same for Madrid when Ronaldo is not playing.

Big teams are built around their star player and Hazard was the difference last season. As for the comparison with Ronaldo and Messi, Hazard is not on that level yet, but on his day and in form, he is simply unplayable and no player in the league can match him.

Antonio Conte

Chelsea are still very much in the league and have a manager in Antonio Conte who, for all his shortcomings, which are not many, knows how to win a league title. He proved this time and again in the Italian league and did so in the Premier League in his first season in charge.

Antonio Conte knows what he needs to do to make this Chelsea side tick again and he is going to do it. Recall how he turned things around after a terrible loss to Arsenal last season? The same can be said after their loss to Burnley. The early season premonition that Chelsea were in a bit of a turmoil was quickly put aside after they won three on the trot.

Chelsea have got depth

Alvaro Morata has started well
Alvaro Morata has started well

Most of the argument against Chelsea retaining the league title they won last season has been centred around their supposed lack of depth and it is surprising where this is coming from.

Diego Costa's absence might have an impact, but his replacement -- Alvaro Morata -- is already looking like a good signing. With 3 league goals in a team that is yet to have Hazard playing at his best, it is not hard to imagine his tally to go up when Hazard returns.

The only real blow was the departure of Nemanja Matic. Not only did it weaken the Chelsea midfield, but it added considerable balance to Manchester United.

But Chelsea and Conte have bought well. Antonio Rudiger, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater and Alvaro Morata are quality players who provide good options for the gaffer and it is already showing in their performance so far.

These players provide Chelsea with options that were not there last season and they still claimed the title, so is it difficult to think with more options now the team should not do better or even match last season's achievement?

As much as it is still too early to say who will win the league this season, it would be wise not to rule Chelsea out this early. Chelsea will, when the team is fully back and everyone is playing, be hard to beat and they will determine the destination of the league title.

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