It must be the season of giving, for the teams behind Chelsea have wholly embraced the Yuletide ethos. They’ve been handing over points like gifts and now Chelsea’s six-point lead over the chasing pack feels ominous.
We’re just over a week out from Christmas, the period where the English Premier League kicks into overdrive and, more often than not, spits out a champion-elect early in the new year.
Chelsea’s next four games might have them putting one hand on the trophy. First, it’s Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park (Live on SBS from 11:30pm) on Saturday night, followed by Bournemouth on Boxing Day and Stoke on New Year’s eve – both of which are at home.
The Blues will be rightfully eyeing off nine points, followed by the short trip to White Hart Lane to face Spurs. Tottenham are a little Jekyll and Hyde at the moment – 10 points from top means they’re basically out of the title chase.
Provided there’s no major catastrophes, it’s very realistic that Chelsea could have it all wrapped up in the next three weeks. Should this lead get to a 10 point gap, with this team playing as well as they are - and managed brilliantly by Antonio Conte - it’s all over.
Liverpool face Everton away on Monday, then both Stoke and Manchester City at home, which is a significantly tougher stretch than what Chelsea face. A loss in any three of those fixtures would crush their title aspirations.
Indeed, it was Arsenal’s loss to the Toffees on Tuesday has has thrown a major spanner in Arsene Wenger’s works. A rollicking Goodison Park roared back to life after Everton fell 1-0 down, spurring the home side on to a 2-1 win. It was a result that has potentially huge ramifications for the title race.
The other genuine contender, City, were purring until they faced Chelsea a fortnight ago. However, that 3-1 defeat – a truly outstanding match at Etihad Stadium – appears to have rocked the one-time title fancies.
They went on to draw 1-1 with Celtic in the Champions League before losing 4-2 as the rain tumbled down at the King Power Stadium; a night when, for about 20 minutes, Leicester City were the best team in England once again.
Though normality was restored with a 2-0 win over Watford, City play host to Arsenal this weekend in what some might be viewing as a sudden death title contest. City could fall as far back as 10 points if they lose; Arsenal could be nine points in arrears if they suffer defeat.
A win over Hull, even at the KC Stadium, is the least Pep Guardiola and City fans will be expecting on Boxing Day - but the aforementioned clash with Liverpool means City are now walking a tightrope that offers no room for error. The loss of Ilkay Gondogan for the rest of the season is a huge blow, too.
If you didn’t know better, you’d swear the fixture list had been drawn up by Conte himself to ensure a smooth run through the notoriously most difficult part of the season. Realistically, it is the reward for fighting through all the obstacles that have been thrown at them.
Of course, the January transfer market still looms, and it’s tough to predict exactly how that might play out and who will be weakened and strengthened.
Curiously, Chelsea look to be on the brink of losing Oscar in a £60 million move to Chinese Super League club Shanghai SIPG – where he will earn a reported £400,000 a week. Cesc Fabregas is another who has been linked to China, but that looks one change too many for Conte.
If Oscar does go as expected, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich would have to think long and hard about whether to reinvest that money to secure the title or to back his squad to get the job done.
Fortunately, their attacking midfield stocks are already world class, with Eden Hazard, Pedro, Willian and the even the revitalised wing-back Victor Moses (who can play further up the park) all looking on form.
Abramovich might be better served by buying Romelu Lukaku, or even simply adding some defensive reinforcements. To be fair, it doesn’t look like much needs to change. Destiny is firmly in their hands.