Following the latest international break, which all but served to erase any faint hopes that followers of the England national team might have had that manager Roy Hodgson might somehow mastermind World Cup glory in Brazil next summer, the Premier League makes a welcome return this weekend to take the pain of embarrassing international failure away.
With the fixture list set to get very busy heading into the Christmas period, and just six points separating Arsenal at the top of the league and Manchester City currently in eighth, Chelsea supporters will be hoping that Blues boss Jose Mourinho has identified, and is able to address, the issues that have seen his team muster just one point from their past two matches and seen the Stamford Bridge club slide to fourth in the Premier League.
The disappointing defeat at Newcastle and ludicrously lucky draw at home to West Brom, games that Chelsea had been expected to win, have illustrated that nothing can be taken for granted this season. However, the quirky nature of results elsewhere mean the Blues remain just four points off the pace.
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Starting with the forthcoming London derby at West Ham on Saturday, Jose Mourinho's men embark on a run of six league fixtures, which on paper suggest that they have an outstanding opportunity to get Chelsea's title campaign back on track. The sequence, West Ham (a), Southampton (h), Sunderland (a), Stoke (a), Crystal Palace (h), Arsenal (a), with the exception of the Saints and Gunners' games, features matches against sides currently in the bottom five of the table and the Blues will be expected to profit at their expense.
The most intriguing game in prospect is the visit of Southampton to Stamford Bridge on Dec. 1. Currently third in the table, the Saints are this season's surprise package, though an impressive win at Anfield against Liverpool and a hard fought point secured at Old Trafford against Manchester United have proven that Mauricio Pochettino's team are no flash-in-the-pan. Southampton have a tough upcoming programme; Arsenal (a), Chelsea (a), Aston Villa (h), Manchester City (h), Newcastle (a), Tottenham (h) will provide Pochettino and his men with a series of stern tests which should they be negotiated successfully will see the south coast club rightfully acknowledged as serious title contenders.
Blues supporters travelling to Upton Park for Saturday evening's game with West Ham will be keeping an ear to the ground for updates from the 3pm match at the Emirates and hoping that the Saints can outgun the Gunners, thereby further denting Arsenal's title challenge, which received a serious knock in the defeat away to Manchester United last time out.
Arsene Wenger's team face a tricky set of fixtures, Southampton (h), Cardiff (a), Hull (h), Everton (h) Man City (a) Chelsea (h), which stiffen progressively and it will be interesting to see, come Dec. 23 when Mourinho and his Blues arrive to joust at the Emirates, if Arsenal have been able to sustain their early season form.
This weekend's stand-out fixture sees sixth placed Everton collide with second placed Liverpool in the 221st Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. Liverpool remain in a rich vein of form, and with prolific Uruguayan hitman Luis Suarez back on song following his return from suspension, Reds manager Brendan Rodgers will be confidently eyeing a sequence of games, Everton (a), Hull (a), Norwich (h), West Ham (h), Tottenham (a), Cardiff (h) which represent the opportunity of a significant points haul for the Anfield club.
Romelu Lukaku, Everton's on-loan Chelsea striker, will have other ideas. Last season, whilst apprenticing at West Brom, the brawny Belgian scored against Liverpool, and Lukaku, to say nothing of Mourinho and Blues supporters, will be hoping he ripples the Reds' net at Goodison on Saturday.
Under Roberto Martinez Everton started the season brightly but have looked toothless in recent games, in particular when drawing 0-0 at Crystal Palace last time out. A mixed bag of fixtures, Liverpoool (h), Stoke (h), Man United (a), Arsenal (a), Fulham (h), Swansea (a) will give Martinez plenty to think about as he seeks to re-sharpen the Toffees cutting edge.
David Moyes whose departure for Old Trafford paved the way for Martinez to take over at Everton faces a similar challenge in his new role as Manchester United manager. Like Chelsea, United have stuttered this season dropping unexpected points when coming up short against the likes of West Brom and Southampton and being demolished by neighbours and deadly rivals Man City. The Red Devils recent 1-0 victory over Arsenal will have provided Moyes and his team with a massive confidence boost and forthcoming games against Cardiff (a), Tottenham (a), Everton (h), Newcastle (h), Aston Villa (a), West Ham (h) should provide a platform for United to mount an assault on the Premier League summit.
Elsewhere in the top eight, Tottenham Hotspur (seventh) and Manchester City (eighth) have been erratic to say the least and the two sides face each other in what should be an entertaining match at the Etihad this coming Sunday. Spurs, Man City (a), Man United (h), Fulham (a), Sunderland (a), Liverpool (h), Southampton (a), face a challenging schedule which will test the managerial capabilities of Andre Villas-Boas to the limit and those of a Chelsea persuasion will be keen to see how the former Blues boss acquits himself and take great pleasure from any slip-ups.
Manchester City manager Manual Pellegrini has endured an interesting Premier League baptism, the Citizens have been in scintillating form at home plundering goals for fun, but on the road they have been an abject disappointment and counting Chelsea amongst their losses. Tottenham (h), Swansea (h), West Brom (a), Southampton (a), Arsenal (h), Fulham (a) should give Pellegrini the opportunity to improve on City's current standing.
"The Premier League is very close this year," said the Chilean in a recent interview. "There are six clubs challenging, with very little difference between one team and another. We have a lot of points to fight for, and I think at the end it will be between Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City." An interesting and perhaps overtly dismissive point-of-view that Pellegrini's counterparts at Liverpool and Spurs might take issue with.
Time will tell if Pellegrini's assessment proves to be correct. Meanwhile down in the Capital, perhaps mindful of Chelsea's woeful recent league form, Mourinho has kept his own counsel on the topic over the past couple of weeks. In a high-stakes, results-driven business, Mourinho knows only too well that sometimes it pays to let his team's football do the talking for him and a frank analysis of the fixture list may have led him to believe that the Blues need to start winning their winnable games before he passes further comment.