LONDON (Reuters) - It was hard to believe watching Chelsea dispose of West Ham United with relative ease in the Premier League on Monday that last season they finished 12 points behind their London rivals.
Ten months later, they are 33 points above the Hammers, 10 points better off than anyone else and, with 11 games to go, have 16 more points than they managed all last season.
Not only that, but unlike two seasons ago when Chelsea rather laboured towards the title under Jose Mourinho having built a lead, they look capable of sprinting to the finish.
“It’s not over because this is the Premier League and it won’t be an easy ride,” West Ham’s Slaven Bilic, one of the few managers to outsmart Antonio Conte this season when the Hammers won a League Cup tie at the London Stadium, told reporters.
“But they aren’t going to lose (it), they are not going to become casual, I‘m 100 percent sure about that. They look very, very serious and I can see them staying on top with the quality they have, how solid they are and how concentrated they are and how physically in good shape they are.”
Bilic’s West Ham side posed some difficult questions early on, bombarding Chelsea’s defence with high balls aimed at the head of fit-again powerhouse Andy Carroll.
Chelsea barely blinked.
Then, once West Ham’s early bluster blew out, the visitors unleashed a wave of counter-attacks, the first of which led to Eden Hazard’s opener in a victory, secured by Diego Costa, that was far more comfortable than the 2-1 scoreline suggested.
Conte, as is the Italian way, chastised his team for allowing West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini to score a stoppage time consolation. But that was the one blemish on an evening that would have been demoralising for the chasing pack.
While Hazard was sensational and Costa as hungry as ever, N‘Golo Kante patrolled the midfield areas to devastating effect, giving a lesson in anticipation and ball distribution.
West Ham actually enjoyed more possession and had more shots than Chelsea - yet the Blues never looked remotely in danger of being denied a 21st victory in 27 league games.
”Statistically it looked even,“ Bilic, whose side sit safely in mid-table said. ”To be fair every attack when they were 2-0 up looked very dangerous. They deserved the win.
“There are many good teams in the Premier League with attacking flair but they look the most solid. They always defend with numbers and because they are so fit they make the transition quickly to attack. That’s their strongest weapon.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris