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Sunday March 30, 2014 MYT 3:47:38 AM
Sunday March 30, 2014 MYT 3:47:38 AM
by william schomberg
LONDON (Reuters) - If Chelsea fail to land a fifth top-flight title - as now looks likely after their shock 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace on Saturday - it will be because they flopped too often this season against smaller teams.
Jose Mourinho's men have won most of the matches against their title rivals this season, a league double over Manchester City and a 6-0 thrashing of Arsenal the highlights of a string of successes against the elite clubs.
However, their five Premier League defeats have come against teams outside the top four - all away at Palace, Stoke City, Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Everton.
Chelsea were also dumped out of the Capital One Cup at second from bottom Sunderland and twice lost to rank Swiss outsiders Basel in the group stages of the Champions League.
Mourinho's men will look to bounce back from Saturday's defeat when they visit Paris St Germain in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday.
But it is a lack of battling spirit in the less glamorous games that manager Mourinho said he was finding hard to take after a second-half own goal by captain John Terry sent Chelsea spinning to defeat on Saturday.
"Clearly we have some players, because of their profile, they find it difficult to perform in some profile of matches," the Portuguese told reporters as he ruled out Chelsea's chances of winning the league despite being top of the table.
The Stamford Bridge outfit, winners of the top-flight crown in 1955, 2005, 2006 and 2010, are one point ahead of Liverpool who play their game in hand at home to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
Manchester City, in third spot, are the title favourites because they are two points off the pace and have two matches in hand on Chelsea after Saturday's 1-1 draw at fourth-placed Arsenal.
Mourinho praised defenders Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta who have conceded fewer goals than any other side this season.
"They perform every game, from day one to the last day," said the Chelsea manager.
"You have other players who are fantastic in some matches. They disappear in other matches."
Despite the gulf between the two teams in terms of league position and finance, fifth from bottom Palace could have won by more than 1-0 as Chelsea pressed in vain for an equaliser and frequently left themselves exposed to counter-attacks.
Palace striker Cameron Jerome hit the post when through one-on-one with goalkeeper Petr Cech but Tony Pulis' team held on for a victory that boosts their chances of avoiding relegation.
Chelsea looked a shadow of the team that scored four times in the first half last week in what was billed as a potential title decider against Arsenal.
After starting against Palace with three defensive midfield players - Frank Lampard, David Luiz and Nemanja Matic - Mourinho gave the team more creative bite in the second half.
But a side fielding the attacking talents of Eden Hazard, Fernando Torres, Andre Schuerrle, Oscar and Demba Ba rarely looked like piercing the Palace defence and when they did goalkeeper Julian Speroni pulled off some excellent saves.
Mourinho declined to single out individual players on Saturday although he has previously expressed his frustration at the lack of goals scored by his strikers.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)
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