Chelsea’s 1-1 draw against Everton, which comes as part of a longer downturn in form, suggests the European champions may lack the credentials to go the distance over the course of a 38-game Premier League season.
Thomas Tuchel’s side are still only four points behind Manchester City but the widening dip in performances will likely see them lose ground on Pep Guardiola’s side and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool over time.
In recent weeks, Chelsea have picked up fortunate wins over Leeds and Watford but have also dropped points in four of their last six games.
Meanwhile, Man City are on an eight-game winning run, with Liverpool having strung together six victories.
That’s a sign of the consistency needed, the kind of form which saw those two teams achieve between 90 and 100 points across recent title-winning seasons.
The Blues are now in danger of falling away as they aim to be the disruptors among two of the best teams in English football history.
Everton had no right to get any points at Stamford Bridge, with 10 players out through injury and illness but they dug out an impressive 1-1 draw.
Mason Mount’s seventh goal of the season took the Blues towards victory in the 70th minute but Jarrad Branthwaite’s strike four minutes later gave Everton a share of the points.
There had been fears that the match wouldn’t even go ahead, after sporty revealed first that there had been several Covid-19 cases among Chelsea’s squad.
Although it clearly disrupted preparations, the gamble from above Tuchel’s head was that the match should go ahead.
Ultimately, it was believed that Chelsea had enough to knock down Everton’s second string, even without many key men.
“The situation started yesterday with the players feeling unwell and not training,” Tuchel told BT Sport ahead of kick-off.
“The situation is the situation. We still have a strong squad and one we want to push forward, and that should be able to compete. Like always, we focus on the guys who are there.”
He added after the match: “We did not discuss cancelling it for one minute and I didn’t even know the rules about it. I am not interested in knowing them because I do what I do which is prepare my team.
“We knew at noon which guys were out. We were happy with the team on the pitch and I think it was by far good enough to win the game.
“Do we like to have all our players available? Yes, of course. Do we suffer for that? Yes, sure but there’s never just one reason for a lack of results.
“We need to avoid the sporting political decisions and keep on going.”
It was Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Callum Hudson-Odoi who tested positive for Covid or who were suspected cases.
Without those key attackers, Chelsea fell short and were forced into throwing in the likes of Saul Niguez, Ross Barkley and Trevoh Chalobah in a desperate bid to break down Rafael Benitez’s stubborn defence.
“Saul was a No.9 and we had Chalobah on for the set-pieces. It is what it is and we were doing our best with the situation,” Tuchel added.
Those out-of-form and defensive players were unable to make the difference, even though Everton resorted to playing a number of players from their academy.
And now, although Tuchel wouldn’t admit it publicly, there may be some regret that the Blues didn’t press the Premier League to postpone the fixture.
Without the firepower of their front men, or the consistency of their rivals, Tuchel saw his side drop crucial points in a match that they should win nine times out of 10.
The club’s gamble backfired and concerns will only grow that they aren’t good enough to produce a proper Premier League title challenge.