After Liverpool capitalised on Manchester City's continuing implosion with a confident win over Newcastle on Monday night, the race for the top 4 is now a less predictable prospect than it was heading into the weekend's fixtures. Last season, Manchester City and Liverpool went head-to-head for the title, as the race went down to the wire. Chelsea were not far behind in third, but you could sense that momentum at Stamford Bridge was growing.
We all remember Jose Mourinho's comments last season likening his Chelsea side to a "little horse" following a 1-0 win over eventual league champions Manchester City. Mourinho was true to his word, and the "little horse" that "still needs milk and to learn how to jump.
A horse that next season can race", is now all grown up and has raced to the league summit, just as the Portuguese promised it would. However, there have been slips ups along the way - only mustering home draws against Burnley and Southampton being notable examples. But where Chelsea have faltered, City have followed, and a defeat to Manchester United last time out means the advantage is handed back to the Londoners as Mourinho bids for his first Premier League title since his return to the UK.
However, Chelsea are by no means the finished article, and the resurgence of Arsenal means there are now three teams nipping at Chelsea's heels in a last-ditch attempt to catch the long-term leaders. While the chances of Chelsea being caught now in the final run-in of the season are slim, there remains life in the title race yet. In Friday's pre-match press conference, Mourinho admitted that "Mathematically, it's open. Every team with less than 21 points distance to us mathematically is in the race. But being objective, a team with eight, nine points, difference is obviously still in the race." Indeed, The Blues have accumulated 22 points from a 33 games since the New Year, which is a solid enough run.
Should that form continue over the next seven games of the season, however, then Chelsea could realistically finish fourth.
Chelsea are now without the mercurial Diego Costa, upon whom they relied heavily to build up a significant goal difference against their rivals. The rest of the squad is showing signs of fatigue after a lack of rotation in the opening four months of the season. While Mourinho's tactics in persisting with the same starting eleven in the first half of the season is entirely justifiable after we saw them go unbeaten in all competitions in December, it seems that decision has now taken its toll. Obvious comparisons can be made with Real Madrid, who went on a remarkable 22-game unbeaten run under Carlo Ancelotti earlier this season that took them to the top of La liga. But good results eventually gave way to tired legs and they conceded top spot to bitter rivals Barcelona.
The most recent round of Premier League fixtures has thrown up some interesting permutations, as Liverpool took full advantage of Manchester City's derby defeat to Manchester United. Whilst it's unlikely that we will see anyone but Chelsea crowned league champions this season, the race for the remaining Champions League places is certainly shaping up to be an intriguing one..