So ominous was Chelsea FC's form in the early part of the season that they seemed a certainty to defend the Premier League title they lifted in May.
Chelsea were in free-scoring form in their opening matches, hitting 21 goals en route to five successive wins. Though such a pace was never going to be maintained, they nonetheless entered November with a healthy five-point lead. Fast forward seven weeks, however, and the picture is somewhat different.
The Stamford Bridge club enter the busy Christmas period in fourth place, three points adrift of Manchester United FC after one victory in seven games – their worst run since December 1999. It is testament to the unpredictability of the 2010/11 season, though, that the summit is still within reach.
That, coupled with the return of Frank Lampard and John Terry from injury, means Carlo Ancelotti is far from downbeat: "I think we are going the right way," said the manager after Chelsea's most recent fixture, a 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur FC. "We have a lot of possibilities when we recover all our players. I think this difficult moment is behind us."
Though United are unbeaten and have a game in hand, the league leaders by two points have drawn too many games for Sir Alex Ferguson's liking – seven – while Arsenal FC, in second, have been surprisingly fallible in losing three times at home. City, having spent more than €100m in the summer, are third, level on points with the Gunners having played a game more. Defeat at home to Everton denied City the Premier League lead at Christmas for the first time since 1929.
Sunderland AFC and Bolton Wanderers FC, in sixth and seventh respectively, are threatening to mount a push for European qualification. Unbeaten at home, the former have also kept the most clean sheets in the top flight, nine. The three clubs who were promoted last season − Blackpool FC, Newcastle United FC and West Bromwich Albion FC − are more than holding their own, meanwhile, with Blackpool providing one of the shock results so far when defeating Liverpool FC 2-1 at Anfield.
Integral to Newcastle's return to the top flight, Andy Carroll has proved a handful for Premier League defences. The powerful 21-year-old striker has been one of the stand-out performers in the first half of the campaign, scoring ten goals in 17 appearances and making his England debut in a friendly against France last month. Samir Nasri, whose eight league goals thus far for Arsenal is the best haul of his career, has also caught the eye, while Gareth Bale has been just as marauding domestically for Tottenham as he has been in the club's entertaining first UEFA Champions League foray.
Things are not looking good for West Ham United FC, though. Two wins from 18 matches leaves the Hammers haunted by the precedent that dooms the team bottom at Christmas to relegation. That said, the east Londoners are only three points from safety, albeit having played a game more than their rivals, and a decent run of results could help them overhaul fellow strugglers Wolverhampton Wanderers FC, Wigan Athletic FC and last season's UEFA Europa League finalists, Fulham FC.
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