With Chelsea on the verge of winning the title, their rock solid defence has helped them to get to this position and in the process firmly squashing whispers of a dramatic late collapse. Games against United and Arsenal preceded by a trip to serious relegation contenders QPR were seen as tricky fixtures, which would test their mettle especially since they weren’t playing particularly well, having also bowed out of the Champions League.
But in classic fashion, Mourinho’s men kept consecutive cleansheets carving out two efficient wins and a creditable draw at the Emirates last week and it has been nine games since they won by more than a single goal. Against Leicester, they conceded the opening goal in a game for the first time in 2015 and even that came because of an unfortunate slip by Cesar Azpilicueta.
Once the first half exploits of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa subsided, it was Chelsea’s defence which dragged them to the edge of the finishing line. The league table shows that they have conceded the lowest amount of goals in the league after Southampton. That second choice Petr Cech kept more clean sheets in just the four games he started than Wojciech Szczesny did in 17 games is testament to the fact that Arsenal would have been competing for the title had they been tight at the back in the first half of the season. Thibaut Courtois on the other hand has kept 12 shut outs so far and is in the race of the Golden Glove award.
6 of the 27 goals Chelsea have conceded this season came in the opening 4 games and the entire defence has to be given credit for the impregnable backline since. In front of the goalkeepers, Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry have played every single minute this season and their place in the PFA Team of the Year along with Gary Cahill is justly deserved. Cesar Azpilicueta too has been impeccable in his performances, reading the game intelligently and stopping attacks before they get a chance to develop. He was arguably the best player against Arsenal at the weekend alongside Terry, nullifying their threat down the right wing and helping his side keep their 16th clean sheet of the campaign, more than any other side in the league.
With Nemanja Matic marshalling the back four, Chelsea have been extremely organised and compact denying the opposition space and choking the life out of their attacks. Apart from Cahill’s blip in form a couple of months back, the back four has been fairly reliable and consistent. They’ve performed as a well-drilled unit, week in week out and will justly be rewarded with the league title at the weekend against Crystal Palace. What stands out above everything else is their professional attitude towards the game and the gritty steel with which they perform, always willing to put their bodies on the line. Chelsea’s defenders have also contributed to 33 goals in all competitions this season having scored 19 goals and provided 15 assists, contributing heavily at the other end as well.
Rarely are the full-backs beaten on the outside while the centre-backs are rarely beaten in the air. All this makes for the perfect defence and it’s not a surprise because the quartet were responsible for the best defensive record in the league last season as well, conceding just 27 goals. They were on course to challenge for the title till the latter stages of the campaign only for a dramatic collapse towards the end. Even Liverpool who scored 101 goals in one of the most swashbuckling attacking displays by a Premier League team in recent years were let down by their fragile defence which leaked in 50 goals over the course of the season.
Matic’s contribution cannot be understated with the Serb forming part of the six Chelsea players in the team of the year. Pressing high and tackling hard but fair, the former Benfica midfielder player has shielded the defence in the unglamorous role made famous by one Claude Makelele.
Looking at the records of the Premier League winners over the years, 15 of the 22 Champions were also the top scorers which include the last five seasons. In line with those stats, they are two goals behind Manchester City but it’s their defensive record continuing from last season which will see them win the title.