Chelsea: Our run-in looks promising but we're out of form and have let the Scousers back into the title race
Of Chelsea's last 12 Premier League games eight are against sides in the bottom half of the table. Most teams in Chelsea's position would be salivating at this prospect. The Manchester United of old would steam roller these sides. The Manchester City of a month ago would dispatch them with a goal difference of roughly 54-2. Chelsea on the other hand may struggle.
Omen: noun, an event regarded as a portent of good or evil
The result against West Brom last week was foreboding. As was the 0-0 with West Ham at Stamford Bridge, the 3-2 loss to Stoke City earlier this year, the sketchy 2-1 win over Crystal Palace and the 2-2 draw with West Brom at home, Chelsea's personal nemesis.
Chelsea have to play Palace again (away) and face a rematch with Stoke at Stamford Bridge. I fancy Chelsea to win their upcoming home ties against the lesser teams in the league, but my eye is drawn to ties such as Aston Villa away, Swansea away and - mostly -Fulham away.
This would have been laughable a week ago but Fulham have just run Manchester United and Liverpool extremely close. They are a rival (albeit as much of a rival as an overly polite, snarky younger cousin is) and have a good recent record against Chelsea, forcing seven draws from their last 13 league encounters. This may be worth a punt, if you are that way inclined. Aston Villa are another historically tricky side, one that Chelsea seemingly either blow away, or blow it against. It's all looking a bit ominous.
It is perverse to think that Chelsea are better equipped to beat Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool during the final furlong of the season, but recent form suggests these are the games Chelsea will turn up for.
As my colleague Rebecca Knight points out once again this can easily be boiled down to the lack of cutting edge provided by a top striker in games where the opposition require unlocking. As Michael Cox of Zonal Marking excellently points out, Man City knocked Chelsea out of the FA Cup on Saturday by taking away their counter attacks. This left Eto'o a forlorn figure, unable to test City due to his lack of ability to beat his man and create an opening.
In the more open games with top sides Chelsea can counter punch, and often to devastating effect. Against the sturdier and more desperate defences at the bottom of the table, Chelsea struggle to find a breakthrough all too often. What City did on Saturday was prove there is a second way to stifle Chelsea, by pressing its attacking trio hard, this will concern Mourinho.
Returning to the Premier League, the West Brom game last Tuesday showed Chelsea's inability, or potential disinterest in killing games off. Chelsea spent the last 20 minutes seemingly content with their 1-0 lead, and then soaked up too much pressure in the final minutes, leading to a Victor Anichebe equaliser and a clear cut chance for the big striker to win it late on (albeit up against a clearly hobbled Gary Cahill). There have been many examples this season of Chelsea soaking this pressure up and walking away with a narrow win, but it is a dangerous tactic that is liable to come back and bite at inopportune moments.
Of the other fixtures a scrapping Sunderland side, who have already knocked Chelsea out of the Capital One (AET) this season, helmed by a former Chelsea hero in Gus Poyet is another potential banana skin. And then there is a tricky trip to a resurgent and Tony Pulis managed Crystal Palace side. Even those last two games against Norwich and Cardiff will look tough if things get that far down the wire.
In terms of the title rivals it galls me to admit that Liverpool may be genuine contenders. That absolutely hair-pullingly stupid tackle from Sasha Reither to gift them a comeback win on Wednesday night only strengthened their recent aura. It is very feasible to think that all of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City won't be playing European football this time next month, allowing them to focus on the league title. This again does not bode well for Chelsea coming down the stretch.
The optimist in me says that Chelsea can hit stride and pick up tough points in these games, but on recent form this is a pretty unreasonable expectation. As long as Jose can keep winning the big ones, and he has four left (Everton are up next), Chelsea will certainly be there at the end of the season. Whatever happens: it's going to be one hell of a scrap to the finish.