Chelsea pulling away as rivals stumble: Richard Buxton
Even without their injured strikers, the Blues don't look troubled in title tilt
Thomas Tuchel could be forgiven for believing he was mis-sold a dream by Chelsea.
His mission statement after succeeding Frank Lampard in January outlined a desire to compete in what he deemed the "toughest" competition, the English Premier League.
But the scrap that the German envisaged is considerably easier than initially believed with his yearning for a crowded field in this season's title race yet to be fully reciprocated.
A 3-0 dismantling of Newcastle United on Saturday merely reaffirmed the Blues' credentials to claim a first EPL title since 2016/17, as their nearest contenders' inability to match that intensity threatens to derail a three-way battle before Christmas.
Chelsea's ascent hardly comes as a surprise; they were already widely tipped as overwhelming EPL winners before a ball had even been kicked this season.
As they racked up the goals at St James' Park, even without either of their main strikers available, Liverpool threw their lead away in a 2-2 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion while Manchester City succumbed to a 2-0 reversal against Crystal Palace.
Pep Guardiola's reigning champions have struggled to play catch-up to the team they bested in September.
The Reds, meanwhile, had appeared the most viable challengers to Chelsea before wilfully surrendering a comfortable two-goal advantage to the Seagulls.
The Reds remain unbeaten in all competitions, equalling a 24-game run first set at Anfield in the 1988/89 season, but the flimsy manner of their eventual capitulation against Brighton mirrored the second-half drop-off in the 5-0 annihilation of Manchester United.
Old Trafford remains a reference point for Chelsea as the only team to push them close in any of their five EPL title triumphs. In 2009/10, a solitary point separated Carlo Ancelotti's Double winners from Sir Alex Ferguson's silverware juggernaut.
Either side of that, however, no one really ran the Blues close. Long before Tottenham Hotspur became a buzzword for ineptitude under Nuno Espirito Santo, they finished seven points adrift of their London rivals despite losing one game fewer in 2016/17.
Five points currently separate the top three sides but the chasm between those directly beneath them is failing to live up to Tuchel's wish for a more competitive league.
Despite United's bounce-back 3-0 victory over the Lilywhites yesterday morning (Singapore time) allowing a beleaguered Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to cling to power, albeit temporarily, they still sit a dismal eight points adrift of the summit after just 10 matches.
Their impending trip to Stamford Bridge at the end of the month risks seeing Tuchel's imperious charges building on an impressive run of form which has helped them win 10 from a possible 14 EPL games on their travels.
By that point, Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner's respective returns may help tip the title race's balance further in their favour as Liverpool and City both face daunting encounters with a high-flying West Ham United that could widen the points gap.
Tuchel is under no illusions that he is not entirely among equals against Klopp and Guardiola, having won the Champions League but still lacking an EPL title on his CV.
Until his contemporaries finally sharpen up their ideas, the Chelsea manager might have to settle for emulating them without his utopian vision of a fight to the finish.