Chelsea may be flawed, but a repeat of doomed 2015-16 season looks unlikely
Trends and patterns are popular among football observers.
Jose Mourinho is heralded for having always won the league in his second season at a club before suffering "Third Season Syndrome," a condition that often sees relations with his employers rapidly deteriorate before ending with his departure. Comfortingly, Arsenal can generally be relied upon to fall into their familiar annual habit of seeing their title challenge fizzle out before the leaves have started falling from the trees.
Now one of the trends journalists and opposing football supporters seem desperate to propagate is "Chelsea's difficult second season," in which the campaign immediately following Premier League glory, the team falls away and the manager is dismissed. To be fair, that has happened after two of their five title wins this century, with Carlo Ancelotti leaving at the end of the 2010-11 campaign and Mourinho not even making it to Christmas in 2015-16.
It could also be argued that the same thing transpired after the trophy was lifted in 2005-06, with the following season riddled with acrimony between manager and board before the Portuguese eventually left just weeks into 2007-08.
Since the first scowls appeared on Antonio Conte's face at the start of preseason, there has been much mention of the situation repeating itself once again. That Chelsea would forsake the chance to build on their success by undermining the manager and failing to reinforce the squad accordingly did actually look like happening. There were certainly echoes of Mourinho's final months of his second spell at Stamford Bridge. Factor in an erratic start to the season and Conte making suggestions to an Italian radio situation that he sees his future back in his homeland and the possibility of another implosion at Chelsea might not be outlandish.
But despite the fractured nature of the season to date, the situation is actually quite different. For a start, it is impossible to compare Chelsea's results this term to those in Mourinho's ill-fated one. By this point two years ago, the Blues had amassed just 11 points from their opening nine games -- five fewer than now and with a much more benign fixture list. The only top team they had faced -- to which they succumbed 3-0 -- was a Manchester City side that was decent but far inferior to the one now purring under Pep Guardiola. There were home defeats to Crystal Palace and Southampton with one of their three wins coming against an Aston Villa team in terminal decline.
Then there were the off-field issues. Both Conte and Mourinho had their public disagreements with the board over player recruitment. Both had justification. But whereas Conte has responded with some impressive results at Tottenham and Atletico Madrid, his predecessor saw his team -- with the exception of a 2-0 win over Arsenal -- continually fall well short of acceptable standards. Relations were soured further by Mourinho's lambasting of club doctor Eva Carneiro following the opening day 2-2 draw against Swansea with the subsequent fallout dragging the club's reputation through the mud.
Then, as now, Diego Costa decided that he wasn't really up for it anymore. The difference then was that he was retained and spent months sulking as Chelsea's only real option to lead the line. This time he was sold for a handsome profit and was replaced by another top striker.
This season, there have been issues with injuries to some members of the squad while others have suffered fatigue from the increased workload. Yet there does not seem to be widespread discontent within the squad. If there was, then the two fight-backs that the team have produced in their past two outings would surely not have occurred.
Against Roma, Chelsea were clearly second-best yet fashioned a two-goal lead before letting it slip and then successfully piling forward successfully in search of an equaliser. Despite many reports to the contrary, Watford were only superior to Chelsea for a 15-20 minute period at the start of the second half. True, it was a period in which they scored once and missed at least two open goals, but had Chelsea taken their first-half chances, the game would already have been over. The pertinent point, however, is that Conte made surprising yet game-changing substitutions and tactical tweaks in the final half an hour that wrested control and the three points deservedly back toward his team.
In both games, the Chelsea of two years ago would have felt sorry for themselves and rolled over. The Chelsea of today might still be flawed, but at least they have exhibited a creditable resilience. With Manchester United and Liverpool to face in their next four league games, that mindset should serve them well even if there is no denying that performances will have to greatly improve if they are to emerge from either with a positive result.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.