This period will make or break the hopes of every team in this division, due to the volume of matches. It seems particularly important for Chelsea. They have been struggling in recent weeks and it is crucial that they start to win matches again if they are to challenge for the title. They are still part of the title-contending trio, but they are in the worst form of the three. This week, they welcome an injury-struck Leeds United at Stamford Bridge. Thomas Tuchel’s men must get three points.
In the league, Chelsea have only won two of their last five matches. As a result, they have fallen to third place. Manchester City have won their last five, while Liverpool have won their last four. Those two sides seem relentless in their performances and results, showing the mammoth task ahead for the Blues if they are to win the trophy. Tuchel will be re-focusing minds and reminding players that they are still within touching distance of top spot. A win this weekend will start to build positive momentum again.
Leeds United have managed to avoid defeat in four of their last five matches. The issue is a lack of wins, as they have only won three matches this season. They have a six point cushion to the bottom three, but they will be aware of the improvements being shown by Newcastle United and Norwich City under their new managers. The fixtures are tough over the next few weeks and there is a real danger that they could be dragged into the relegation battle. Marcelo Bielsa will be trying to balance his squad without several key players. It could be a really tough period for Leeds.
Chelsea have conceded six goals during the last seven days. After a long period of being impenetrable at the back, there are defensive issues for Tuchel to fix.
Leeds United haven’t beaten Chelsea since December 2002. They have only met six times since that occasion though.
This has been an excellent start to the season for Reece James. It is clear that he is one of the key players under Thomas Tuchel and he has shown his versatility in recent weeks. He prefers being used as a full/wing back, but he has been used as a right sided centre back, a left wing-back and a central midfielder. The physical attributes that he possesses make him an excellent player for a coach like Tuchel. The 22-year-old has contributed four goals and four assists in the league to date. James has belief about his attacking ability and he will want to reach double figures for both before the end of the campaign. This would be an extremely difficult task and unprecedented for a wing-back, but he certainly has the quality to get close. The style of Leeds should play to his strengths, as he will get space in the final third and he has the power to drive past opposition players.
Due to the injury crisis, Leeds will be very reliant on Raphinha during December. He is the one player with match-winning ability and he will see it as his responsibility to perform well. It has been a solid start to the season for the Brazilian, which has seen him emerge on the international stage. This season, he has contributed six goals and a single assist. Despite these figures, Raphinha is one of the most creative players in the league and he is hugely influential in the way Tottenham create chances. He averages 3 shots, 2.5 dribbles and 2.1 key passes per game. This emphasises the threat he does carry. He will sense the nervousness of the Chelsea defence. If anyone is going to cause them problems, it will be Raphinha.
Jorginho is a doubt for the weekend with a back injury. Mateo Kovacic is self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ben Chilwell, N’Golo Kante and Trevoh Chalobah won’t be available.
Robin Koch is close to a return, but he won’t be available for Saturday. Pascal Struijk is a doubt. A big blow for Leeds is that Kalvin Phillips, Patrick Bamford, Liam Cooper and Rodrigo are all ruled out.
The injuries suffered by Leeds mean that Chelsea have to be considered huge favourites this weekend. The visitors have been weakened in both halves of the pitch. Chelsea will have far too much quality for them and it will put their title challenge back on the right track.
Chelsea 2-0 Leeds United