03 February 2014

Top of the league, and we're long shots to win the Prem. Fine.

Chelsea's win today at the Etihad seems to have worked out very well in our favor, as both they and Man City now sit two points behind us in the Prem. Had the two drawn, City would be but a point behind, and Chelsea woud be four back. With Liverpool eight points back, it's looking more and more like a three-club race, and despite our position atop the Prem, a position we've held after 18 of 23 match-days, a position that City has held just once and Chelsea not at all, we're still seen as underdogs punching above our weight, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and so on.

It's enough to drive a fan mad. After all, we've been in stellar form ever since the opening day loss to Aston Villa. However, we suffer a bit in the comparison, as our reputation trails us from previous years. Simply put, we've been rather fortunate to have finished fourth (or third here and there) over the last five years, a span of time that has seen Chelsea win the Prem and the Champions League and Man City win the Prem. By contrast, we're upstarts. The media and the betting sites figure the same, reckoning that it's only a matter of time before we stumble, leaving Chelsea and Man City to slug it out to see who can be the grand-champion of the SMTSP Cup—the Spend Money to Stockpile Players Cup.

Shouldn't we get our panties in a twist over this? After all, we're winning with flair and with grit; gone are the defensive frailties that saw us concede goals on set-pieces and individual errors and dumb luck. We're playing stylish football and stringing together wins, no matter the venue. We haven't dropped points carelessly since West Brom and...and...and yet, we're still the dark horse. The plucky little guy. Just happy to be in the conversation, to be honest, thank you kindly, sorry to be in the way, we'll be on our way shortly...

Man City and Chelsea carry with them—dare I say it?—pedigree. Chelsea have won the Prem in 2010. They won the Champions League in 2012. Hell, they're the defending Europa Leage champions (snort if you will). Man City won the Prem in 2012. By contrast, we haven't won silverware of any sort since 2005 (FA Cup, for enquiring minds). As such, it's only natural that the chattering class focuses on their rivalry and dismisses our challenge. 

Fine.

Let the two of them vie for the headlines. Let Mourinho grow fat on the limelight and Man City feast on visiting teams. Heap the pressure on them—not that we can't endure scrutiny. If we're neglected or undermined in the press, what does it matter? If anything, it's grist for the mill. Let them continue to say "you're not good enough" and "yes, you're top of the table—for now." Let City and Chelsea convince themselves that the Prem is rightfully theirs to win. So much the better for us, I say.

Each team has an Achilles' heel, of course. Both City and Chelsea falter just a bit on the road, and even City's vaunted home-form has slowed quite a bit—"only" seven goals in their last three. Chelsea are just a bit less up-and-down than Man U, winning at the Etihad but then drawing at home at West Ham, losing at Stoke and eking out a home-win over Crystal Palace.  We're hampered by injuries, more so than either of our rivals. However, our consistency, though less glitzy, offers a little of quiet confidence in the long run. A draw at St. Mary's Stadium, home draws with "play not to lose" Mourinho and always-stubborn Everton. You'd have to reach back to find when we've last stumbled, and that's from where I draw my confidence. Again, it's quiet, calm confidence, one that draws less attention to itself than Mourinho's relentless self-aggrandizing or Man City's blitzkrieg scoring, but it's a confidence that could carry this club across the finish line just as effectively, if not more so, than our rivals' sources of strength.

There are fourteen matches to be played. 42 points on the table. If we take 41—far-fetched, but not unheard—it simply won't matter what Chelsea or City do. Of course, it's far more likely to admit that we'll stumble, but so too will they. We might be the dark-horses, but, ironically, we're running on the inside track. Write us off, media, at your peril.