Perhaps there is just a wee bit of hyperbole involved in the title of this piece. The Premier League season is four weeks old and the group stage of the Champions League has only one game in the books.
With such a small sample of performances from which to draw conclusions, it’s difficult to separate true talent from a particularly good run of form.
Given the way these things tend to go, it would not be at all surprising to me if Blackpool emerged from Stamford Bridge with a shocking upset to their name. (Okay, that last bit was a lie. But more on that in a bit.) It is also true that a run such as the one Chelsea are enjoying at the moment is far from unprecedented; the last four games of Chelsea’s season last year (if you choose to include the FA Cup final) saw the Blues outscore the opposition 18-0.
During an earlier four-game stretch they hung another 18 on the opposition while surrendering only two. But when it happens at the beginning of the season, it may sometimes feel as though it is telling us more than it actually is. This is a team that is capable of scoring goals by the bushel, and they’re not particularly shy about doing so.
They’re also just as susceptible to a run of sub-par form and the ravages of poor luck as any other team. It is a reasonable assumption to think that a team less spectacular than the one that absolutely savaged Wigan Athletic in the second week of the season will show up on occasion. They’ll also run into competition slightly more formidable than the Latics, West Brom, Stoke and West Ham along the way as well. Chelsea’s first real Premier League test will come September 25th when they travel to the Eastlands to take on Manchester City. The following week they’ll host fellow unbeatens Arsenal. The Gunners have gotten off to an impressive start in their own right, with a draw at Anfield being the only thing keeping them from having the full twelve points. But as excellent as Arsenal look both on paper and in the flesh, they don’t feel as invincible as Chelsea. As a supporter of a respectable team with aspirations that are most likely out of their grasp in the near-term, I try as much as possible to be realistic. In the lead-up to matchday, I’m generally successful. On the morning of, however, something changes. I become, if only for a few hours, an optimist. My brain, which I normally take such pride in for its tendency towards reason, begins to cede control to my emotions and inventing justifications for the belief that an unlikely victory is in the cards. Villa’s 3-0 loss to Arsenal at Emirates last season shocked me; their 1-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford didn’t. It doesn’t make sense. I know that. But emotions seldom do.
It doesn’t really feel that way with Chelsea, though. At least not to me. And it felt this way even before the 7-1 dismantling at Stamford Bridge. With Chelsea, it’s merely an issue of hoping that the boys don’t get too horribly embarrassed. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately; why does Chelsea inspire this sense of dread in me where other elite clubs do not? It’s not that I actually believe that Chelsea are going to finish the season without going down in defeat, at least not rationally.
It’s that when I watch them play, I don’t understand how it could possibly happen. The names are a part of that, certainly; Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole are in the discussion for being the best at their respective positions in the world. Frank Lampard is one of the best attacking midfielders in the Premier League. Michael Essien might be the most fascinating players I’ve ever seen. The club currently employs no fewer than five all-time legends in or near their prime years, with a compelling crop of elite young players not too far behind.
Still, the same could be said for numerous teams in the Premier League. Arsenal’s youth system is filled to the brim with incredibly talented prospects, and their regular squad is a mix of legitimate superstars, high-quality regulars and the next generation of elite talent. Manchester United are, as far as I can tell, a machine designed to do little else but win prestigious trophies. Liverpool aren’t in the greatest period of their history, but they’re still the most decorated club in English history and a presence which cannot be ignored. Manchester City’s roster cost more to build than the entire infrastructure of several industrialized nations. But none of them inspire the same level of irrational fear and/or admiration of Chelsea.
I am sure that much of it this to do with having watched them more often than any team aside from Villa and their tendency to completely obliterate their competition on during the majority of those times. And most any league not built on parity (and it’s reasonable to say that the EPL would slot into this category) will have an elite class of teams that inspire similar feelings amongst most of the fanbase; the Celtics of the late 1950s-mid 1960s for example, or the Chicago Bulls of the mid 1990s, or the Murderer’s Row Yankees, or the Lombardi Packers.
Teams that inspired equal levels of fear and respect from their competitors. Those teams won championships nearly every year though, and while the current incarnation of Chelsea are regularly one of the world’s elite teams, Chelsea’s three Premier League titles and zero Champions League titles put them in a slightly lower tier of dominance. But there’s just something about Chelsea’s presence, their style of play and the sheer number of spectacular wins that shifts them into a different level inside my head.
It is probably tempting for some of you reading this to conclude that I have some sort of affection for Chelsea, so I’d like to assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I hate Chelsea. I like several of their players; Frank Lampard is adorable, for one. Michael Essien is absolutely brilliant and watching him is a privilege and a delight. I don’t much care for Didier Drogba while he’s on the pitch, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for the man that he is off of it.
Aside from that, my opinions range from indifference to disdain. I’m no great fan of any of the Big Four, but I have a particular distaste for Chelsea. I’m not sure why that is either, although I’d imagine at least a bit of it is my rational mind recognizing my irrational mind’s winning out and resenting them for it. But for whatever reason, I can’t look away. And for whatever reason, that small part of me that think they’ll never lose gets louder and louder with each passing day.