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Chelsea end 2017 in second place as Manchester United slip up once again

Chelsea may not be repeating as Premier League champions, staying true to the pattern of no champion successfully defending their title in the past decade in England and also ending Antonio Conte’s personal four-season club title-winning streak (3 with Juventus, 1 with Chelsea), but the Blues are set to enter the new year in second place and that’s nothing to scoff at. After all, Manchester City are in the midst of an historic season and may even go undefeated while breaking all sorts of records (most points, most wins, most goals, etc — the true Invincibles). Chelsea’s haul of 45 points from 21 games is a solid pace (81-82 points) that in most years would put us the middle of the title hunt.

As it is, it’s only good for second, and so the focus must shift to building for next season, ensuring a top four finish, while also making as much progress as possible in the three remaining cups this season.

That’s perhaps another reason why Chelsea may not be splashing the cash too much this January, despite record revenues, unless a smart buy is available. Antonio Conte touched on this issue prior to Saturday’s game, repeating his usual lines about being happy to work and improve his current squad while welcoming any improvements the club can provide with the right players through the market.

“I can tell you I’m very happy to work with these players and I’m very happy with the mentality we’ve created in the last one-and-a-half years. I’m very happy with the behaviour and commitment of my players, which is great for me, I’m proud. The club is then right to make the best decision if they see we can improve with some players.

“Football is not simple. The most important thing is to have a very clear idea of where you are in the present and where you can stay in the future.

“It’s important to look at ourselves and try to improve in the right way. At my end, the way to improve is to work. At the other end there is the club and the transfer market. I can only speak about my end and the only way to improve is to continue to work with this mentality and desire in this league because I have fantastic players with me.”

-Antonio Conte

Chelsea came into the calendar year’s final weekend, which as far as football is concerned is just another mid-season matchday — recognition of the “annual” kind (i.e. most goals in 2017, most points in 2017, etc) are just trivia — riding a five-match unbeaten run (including three straight clean sheets in the league), and continued that form with an emphatic 5-0 demolishing of Stoke City.

Manchester United also continued their recent form, which unfortunately for them meant another disappointing draw, their third in a row, this time against Southampton. Their lead over Chelsea had eroded to just one point coming in, and now Mourinho finds himself looking up at the Blues once again, and with Klopp (whose Liverpool overcame a stubborn Leicester City thanks to Mourinho-reject Mo Salah) and the rest suddenly breathing down his neck. One can only hope that the implosion we’re all so familiar with can begin in earnest soon.

(But meanwhile we also sincerely hope that Lukaku’s head injury is nothing worse than a concussion, after the ex-Chelsea man was down on the ground six minutes and had to be stretchered off with an oxygen mask.)

Chelsea’s strength of schedule gets a little tougher in 2018, with an away trip to Arsenal kicking things off, followed by various cups dividing focus once again. But for now, we can enjoy the comforts of second place and the drama happening elsewhere in the table.