When Antonio Conte said at the start of the week that English clubs had a great chance of Champions League success this season he was possibly trying to gloss over a less than favourable draw that left Chelsea with the unenviable task of advancing past Barcelona. The draw was generally kind to English clubs, though Tottenham may beg to differ, and in pitting Real Madrid against Paris Saint-Germain it guaranteed the removal of at least one of the favourites at an early stage.
A couple of days later when the Chelsea manager was next seen in public he was making the valid point that Manchester City seem to be running away with the Premier League title and acknowledging the fact was not being negative or defeatist, just realistic.
“It is hard to keep thinking positive when one of your competitors has won 15 games out of 16 and drawn the other,” Conte said after Chelsea’s impressively comprehensive win at Huddersfield.
There had been a worry that throwing in the towel after Chelsea’s fourth defeat of the season at West Ham may have led to a slump in confidence and an unwanted fifth defeat following quickly on its heels, though in the event Conte’s players were as focused and workmanlike as anyone could have wished. “We are playing well, we are in a good patch,” Conte said. “We have won seven of our last nine matches but, although we will keep trying, I think this season one team is going to prove very difficult to stop.”
The obvious thing to say here is that now Conte knows how all his rivals felt last season, when Chelsea were the ones putting together a 13-match winning run that lifted them into an unassailable position at the top. City, though, have just beaten that record, and the way they have been playing – and scoring – suggests that by the time the Champions League resumes in the new year the Premier League title race may be over as a contest. A one-horse race with the winner home and hosed. A non-event in terms of a run-in, with merely the three places below the champions for the rest of the field to fight over.
No one would particularly object to this scenario, because City have been playing so well, but if events do pan out in that way it would make the Premier League look a little like those continental ones we have become so fond of knocking. The ones where you can predict the winners from the word go. The ones where the other decent teams do the sensible thing and concentrate on European advancement instead of flogging themselves unnecessarily in the domestic league.