Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has been eager to make the point that Chelsea are still contenders for the Premier League title ahead of their clash at Stamford Bridge on Monday night.
The Italian has also been full of praise for his counterpart at Chelsea, Andre Villas-Boas. While expressing his sadness that compatriot Carlo Ancelotti was sacked at the end of last season, he has had kind words to say about his successor.
Mancini is, of course, right on both counts. Villas-Boas has a promising managerial career in front of him, and Chelsea can still not be ruled out of a surge up the table, even if the odds are against it.
However, the effect an away win would have on Chelsea - in psychological terms as well as the cold, hard reality of the Blues dropping 13 points off the leaders - would surely end any lingering hopes they harbour of claiming a second title in three seasons.
Conversely, a win would lift them up to third and give their season another massive boost following on from reaching the knockout stage of the Champions League last week.
After looking at time invincible on the road this season, City were held to a 1-1 draw at Anfield and only narrowly won 3-2 at Loftus Road in their last two away games.
That is not to suggest that City are looking vulnerable, but that form does perhaps give Villas-Boas a big opportunity to consolidate his team's recent upturn in form and reassert his authority.
Beating City - who have won three of their last four meetings - would also lift the squad ahead of a hectic December schedule that sees Chelsea contest London derbies against Tottenham and neighbours Fulham either side of Christmas.
Victory would also greatly help Villas-Boas's cause in instilling the change he craves at the club. He was brought in from Porto because of the exciting, high tempo way in which that team won everything in his one season in charge.
His efforts to transfer that directly on to Chelsea's current squad have been mixed, to say the least, and he reverted to a deeper defensive line for the vital match against Valencia last week.
But if Villas-Boas wants to truly stamp his authority on the club then claiming a scalp such as the league leaders by doing things his way would certainly help his cause.
I still have my suspicions that Villas-Boas has been hired because he will be more flexible in accommodating the owner's wishes. After all, he has only been a manager for a little more than two years, and has not overseen many transfers in that short time.
Beating City would vindicate the Portuguese coach - in the eyes of his employers, the club's fans and the media - for his tactical approach and resultant decisions such as dropping Frank Lampard on occasion this season.
Villas-Boas was quick to have a pop back at the press last week after many speculated about his job security if Chelsea had gone out of the Champions League at the group stage, but he may have been a little too hasty. Another couple of bad results and he will be back under the cosh, and this time with a lot less sympathy from the media.
Still, he had a right to respond to negative coverage, just as he has the right to change things at Chelsea to fit his own vision of how the team should play. After all, that is why Chelsea paid an unprecedented amount of money in compensation for him.
- Sports & Recreation
- Sports & Recreation/Soccer