When Liverpool played Chelsea off the park in a 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge in September, few would have thought that two months later, Antonio Conte’s side would knock the Merseysiders off the top of the Premier League table.
The reds have played some scintillating football this season. However, after going top of the league following a 6-1 demolition of Watford, they did what Liverpool have done so often in recent years, squandering their advantageous position.
Their 0-0 draw at Southampton and Chelsea’s subsequent 1-0 win at Middlesbrough mean that the blues have leapfrogged Jürgen Klopp’s team.
Before the season began, I predicted that Liverpool would finish ahead of Chelsea. However, now that the blues once again sit atop the pile, they could prove me wrong by utilising the one quality they have shown so often in recent seasons – and that Liverpool have severely lacked – sheer mental strength under pressure.
In 2014, Liverpool faced a weakened Chelsea at home with Premier League success all but a certainty should they claim victory. However, Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip was the catalyst to a 2-0 away win and Liverpool lost the title to Manchester City.
The following season, Chelsea steamrolled their way to the title, recovering from a poor run of form in mid-season that could well have seen their wheels come off. They showed the type of mental strength during adversity that had once been synonymous with Liverpool, but became a Chelsea trademark during their shock 2012 Champions League win and their 2013 Europa League success.
Liverpool appear to have lost their winning edge in recent seasons, not only throwing away opportunities to win Premier League titles in 2009 and 2014, but losing the 2012 FA Cup final to Chelsea and squandering last season’s Europa League decider against Sevilla.
Having apparently grown disinterested last season, Chelsea have found their touch again under Antonio Conte.
Diego Costa has stopped getting himself into trouble and looks frighteningly composed. Eden Hazard is back with more confidence than ever, and has already netted seven league goals. Chelsea’s backline has returned to its formidable old self, and the likes of Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso are relishing their chances to shine at the highest level.
Occasionally breathtaking, as in their 5-0 win over Everton, they showed grit to overcome Middlesbrough and claim their place at the top for the first time since winning the league in 2014/15.
With arduous fixtures against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City looming, Chelsea now have to prove that they are psychologically ready to cope with the pressure of once again being the team to beat.
Should they emerge from their next two games unscathed, then Antonio Conte’s men need fear nobody in their quest to reclaim their crown.