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After last season's lavishness, parsimony is back in fashion. Arsenal's title was a triumph for fluidity and flamboyance; if Chelsea, seven points clear, go on to be champions this season, it will, for all the flair of Arjen Robben and Damian Duff, be down to the solidity of their defence. The season is 22 games old and Chelsea have let in just the following eight goals, putting them on course to beat the record low of 16 conceded by Liverpool in 1978-79.

James Beattie, 1st min, Chelsea 2 Southampton 1, Aug 28

Seizing on a dreadful Joe Cole back-pass, Beattie hit a sumptuous 25-yard half-volley that dipped beyond the dive of Petr Cech.

Nicolas Anelka, 11th min, Man City 1 Chelsea 0, Oct 16

Anelka converted a penalty after tangling with Paulo Ferreira just inside the box.

Zoltan Gera, 56th min, West Brom 1 Chelsea 4, Oct 30

Kanu's shot was parried by Cech, the rebound falling for Gera to sweep home from just inside the box.

Pape Bouba Diop, 57th min, Fulham 1 Chelsea 4, Nov 13

John Terry headed clear a Steed Malbranque cross, but the ball fell to Diop, who from 30 yards smashed a volley into the corner.

Kevin Davies, 52nd min, Chelsea 2 Bolton 2, Nov 20

A rare error from Cech as he failed to cut out a Gary Speed free-kick and, with the net unguarded, Davies headed home.

Radhi Jaidi, 87th min, Chelsea 2 Bolton 2

Davies held off Ricardo Carvalho and headed Bruno N'Gotty's free-kick down for Jaidi to hit a late equaliser.

Thierry Henry, 2nd min, Arsenal 2 Chelsea 2, Dec 12

A long ball down the middle, Henry, untended by Terry, headed to Jose Antonio Reyes, took the return, and whipped a finish past Cech from just inside the area.

Thierry Henry, 27th min, Arsenal 2 Chelsea 2

A free-kick clipped into the bottom corner as Cech lined up his wall.

In those eight, then, is there any hope, any recurring flaw to offer hope to Chelsea's opponents? The most striking thing about the list is the paucity of goalkeeping errors; Cech, the best keeper in the Premiership this season, might have done better with the Kanu shot that led to the Gera goal, and possibly with Henry's first, but it was only the Davies header that resulted from an out and out mistake.

Gaffe though it assuredly was, that goal, and Jaidi's later the same afternoon, are indicative of where a slight flaw may lie: no team has so unsettled Chelsea as Bolton did with their physical approach. That is not something relevant to Tottenham, their opponents today, who will struggle to muster an aerial threat whatever permutation of Jermain Defoe, Fredi Kanoute and Robbie Keane they select.

Chelsea may be occasionally susceptible to high balls knocked to the back post, but probably less so than others.

It is a frightening sign of how good Chelsea are that their only discernible vulnerability is in an area in which they nonetheless excel. After all, Victor Fernandez, the Porto coach, described them as the best headers of a ball in Europe.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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