Can Chelsea's old guard last the distance?
Can Chelsea's old age pensioners last the course and finish top of the pile? On the evidence of this demolition of a Blackburn team with travel sickness it would seem they can. But the big question is whether they will and I am afraid serious doubts remain.
• Chelsea 5-0 Blackburn
• Palmer: Allardyce undone
Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill praised Chelsea last week, making the very valid point that the team that finishes above the Blues will win the title. There are precious few candidates to achieve that. Manchester United - most definitely. Manchester City - possibly. Arsenal - an outside chance. My main concern about Chelsea's credentials is not about their ability, but about their staying power. Against Blackburn, they started with six players 30 or over, and not a single player under the age of 25. The OAPs of the Bridge will find it toughest at the turn of the year, and in the all important run-in. Injuries hang around a lot longer the older you get, and Chelsea have had plenty of problems in the past three seasons that United have dominated the championship. Missing for long periods have been players of enormous influence like Didier Drogba; as we all know the team is not the same without their bludgeoning centre-forward. The African Nations Cup in the New Year will deal the Blues another blow, depriving them of many important players. Drogba will be away along with Michael Essien who is rapidly becoming a strong candidate for Footballer of the Year this season. ESPN pundits Guus Hiddink and Kevin Keegan both pointed out in their post-match analysis that it is the loss of players to the Nations Cup that provides Chelsea with their biggest obstacle in the quest to regain the title. But I would go much further and worry about the age of their team. Carlo Ancelotti threw on a couple of teenage talents toward the end of this rout of Blackburn, but the Italian must be acutely aware of the ageing superstars under his supervision. Alan Hansen coined the phrase "you don't win anything with kids", but it's the other extreme with Chelsea; the Blues have the oldest average player age in the Premier League. But what Chelsea also possess is vast experience, enormous strength in depth, and a team packed full of outstanding international talent. They have an astute manager, whose man- management skills are among the best of the recent bosses at the Bridge. The players might be getting on but they are still hungry for success, perhaps realising that time is running out for them. They also have numerous alternative ways of playing, though Ancelotti favours the diamond midfield. If they can steer clear of injuries and their mature players last the pace then they will undoubtedly take some stopping. Also, with the assumption that the club's transfer ban will be suspended until the case is heard, there is a logical reason for spending heavily in the January window, which traditionally is not the time that the big clubs invest in their most significant signings. The Blackburn match marked the return of Joe Cole's much-missed trickery and vision and his presence was like a new signing in itself for the Blues. It would seem that Frank Lampard has rediscovered his goalscoring touch and Essien was again impressive. The Ghanaian grows in stature with every game and must surely be considered one of the best players in the Premier League. It all adds up to Chelsea's best chance to win back the title from United and end the vastly premature prediction that Hiddink will be back in the dug-out as soon as Ancelotti slips up. Anyone with an insight into the workings of Roman Abramovich knows that Hiddink is destined for a more senior role within the Bridge hierarchy should he return. For now Abramovich seems content with Ancelotti at the helm as the Italian, unlike Big Phil Scolari, is popular within the dressing room and most importantly with those senior players who carry so much sway with the Russian owner. While reigning champions United have been the bookies joint-favourites for the title, I maintained before the season kicked off that I felt Chelsea's main challengers for the championship would be moneybags Manchester City. The most intriguing aspect of this season has been its unpredictability, so don't discount my mad-cap pre-season prediction that it would be a tussle between Chelsea and City for the biggest domestic prize. Dad's Army is on the march after the hiccup of two successive away defeats, shoring up the defensive frailties from set pieces. There are some big tests to come against Arsenal and Manchester City, who will provide a far sterner test than this pathetic Blackburn team, which offers so little on their travels.