It remains very early in this Premier League campaign, but if the opening few weeks are anything to go by, this season’s title race will be far from the one-horse race we saw last season.
Liverpool flew out of the traps 12 months ago and had their first title in 30 years pretty much wrapped up by Christmas. But, ravaged by injuries and a defence that has shown signs of weakness, Jurgen Klopp‘s champions could be in for a tough fight to keep hold of their crown.
It has in recent years been a shootout between the Reds and Manchester City for the big honours, but this season could see two new contenders from the south enter the fray.
The title race appears to be wide open at this early stage of the Premier League campaign
Chelsea and Spurs have enjoyed flying starts to the season, with both looking very strong
Jose Mourinho will be delighted with the start his Tottenham side have made to the campaign. Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have obliterated a whole host of defences to put the north London club at the top of the league after nine games.
But it may be a former star pupil that scuppers Mourinho’s plans, because Frank Lampard’s Chelsea are displaying all the credentials of a real title threat. Having spent considerably in the summer, the Blues have tightened things up at the back and look a complete force going forwards.
Ahead of their mouthwatering clash at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon, Sportsmail assesses the two new contenders and discusses who is best suited to challenge the injury-plagued champions and break the dominance of the two clubs in the north.
Jurgen Klopp and champions Liverpool could face a title challenge from London this season
Top clubs have known for some time that a strong squad is key to any side’s silverware ambitions, and this season it will be the way in which managers utilise their squads that could be integral to who wins the big honours come May.
That is because the hectic fixture schedule, onset by the coronavirus pandemic, means that top-flight clubs are facing an onslaught of games, leaving little time to rest and recuperate.
A handful of injuries could really set back a team’s title aspirations, so bosses have been looking to ensure that the drop in quality from starting XI to the bench is not too steep.
Chelsea have spent this big summer and their squad is one of the strongest as a result
For Spurs, that gap in quality has been a real problem up top in years gone by. Harry Kane is typically sidelined at some point every season, and his absence has been sorely missed.
Brazilian striker Carlos Vinicius has been brought in on loan from Benfica. The 25-year-old has looked handy in his limited Europa League appearances, scoring twice against Ludogorets on Thursday night, but it remains to be seen whether he could plug that gap.
Mourinho has plenty of rotation options throughout the side, though. He has a number of wingers at his disposal, including Gareth Bale, while Dele Alli cannot get a look in ahead of Tanguy Ndombele, Pierre Hojbjerg and Moussa Sissoko.
Spurs have long struggled for an understudy of the quality of Harry Kane in years gone by
Carlos Vinicius has been brought in and it is hoped the Brazilian can ease the burden on Kane
Chelsea, meanwhile, have one of the best squads in the league. Lampard had to make do with using his young players last season due to the transfer ban but has strengthened in all areas, giving the Blues a complete squad.
The manager has suffered selection headaches as a result of his depth of centre backs, Mason Mount and Billy Gilmour provide fresh options in midfield while Timo Werner’s flexibility in operating on the flanks and through the middle gives Lampard plenty of different tools up front.
Having the title-winning knowhow can take you a long way when competing for fresh honours. Liverpool strolled to glory last season off the back of the momentum gained from their Champions League triumph, for example.
Both sides have Premier League winners in their ranks. Marcos Alonso, Cesar Azpilicueta, Kurt Zouma and N’Golo Kante have all lifted the Premier League title, while back-up keeper Joe Hart is the only player in the Spurs ranks to have experienced the jubilation of winning the league title.
There are more title winners in Chelsea’s squad, such as N’Golo Kante (left) than at Spurs
But the bulk of the Blues squad is young, including Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham
That is not to say Spurs are completely lacking in champions. Bale has won a glut of trophies while playing for Real Madrid, while Carlos Vinicius swept up the silverware in Portugal with Benfica.
In the same breath, Chelsea have a plethora of young players brought through by Lampard last season that make up the bulk of the squad. Although decorated at youth level, none have experienced the highs and lows of a title run.
The presence of Thiago Silva could help with that, but the veteran Brazilian is new to English football too, so he won’t be totally familiar with the challenges of competing at the top of the Premier League. Plus there could be something of a language barrier.
Spurs have long been mired by the ‘Spursy’ tag – coming so close to breaking their silverware hoodoo only to fall at the final hurdle. The likes of Kane and Son have matured, of course, but they will need to get that monkey off their back sooner rather than later.
Spurs have long been mired by the ‘Spursy’ tag, having come close to winning silverware
Although Spurs’ playing squad are lacking in title-winning experience, they will be leaning heavily on their accomplished coach to steer them through the title charge.
Mourinho, after all, has won wherever he has been, and will expect nothing less than to win silverware for the club’s desperate fans.
Claims have been made in recent years that the Portuguese has lost his touch, the swagger that took English football by storm when he arrived at Chelsea 16 years ago.
Jose Mourinho’s title-winning experience could be crucial in their charge for top honours
Lampard has won as a player but has never won silverware during his young managerial career
The hunger to prove those wrong was seen in the Amazon documentary that aired over the summer, and will surely grow stronger as the season progresses.
Lampard, meanwhile, is a relative novice when it comes to winning trophies as a boss. While he won big as a player with the Blues, he has never won silverware while in the dugout.
It is perhaps unfair to compare Mourinho and Lampard’s records as managers. Lampard, after all, is in just his third season as the main man. But that lack of knowhow could be telling in the long run.
January transfers – will the owners back them?
Given how wide open the race is at this stage, the final outcome of the 2020-21 campaign could come down to who recruits best in the January window.
It is often remarked that the most settled and confident squads rarely need additions in the mid-season window, with Liverpool only recruiting Takumi Minamino last January as they cruised to the title.
Roman Abramovich backed Lampard big in the summer and would do so again in January
If Spurs are challenging come New Year, Daniel Levy is likely to back moves for the final push
But this campaign could tell a different story. The busy fixture schedule, particularly over the coming months, could give rise to a host of new injuries, leaving clubs to scramble for reinforcements in January.
Should that be the case, there is nothing to say that the big-wigs at Chelsea and Spurs won’t back their managers. Roman Abramovich spent big in the summer window, sanctioning transfers worth around £220m for Lampard with the likes of Werner and Kai Havertz joining the club.
Daniel Levy backed Mourinho too. The Spurs chiefs loosened the purse strings for his boss as he spent close to £100m on Hojbjerg, Matt Doherty and Sergio Reguilon, all successful purchases so far.
If both clubs are up there come the new year, their owners will surely look to give their respective managers whatever they need for the title push.
So, can they dethrone Liverpool?
The early signs are very positive indeed, but can either Spurs or Chelsea really challenge the champions?
There is surely no better time than now. Although Liverpool made a big statement in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Leicester, they have still shown the frailty that was not present last season, and the injury crisis has certainly opened the door for the chasing pack.
The Reds’ home form remains imperious, though, and could be a deciding factor in where the title ends up. It is that sort of consistency that Spurs and Chelsea will need to match if they are to have any chance of dethroning Klopp’s side.
Despite their strong starts, it remains to be seen whether each side can keep up with Liverpool