The problem with derbies

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When Glenn Hoddle was Chelsea’s player-manager in 1994, he declared that the reason the Blues struggled to win the league was the sheer number of London derbies, each with their associated history, rivalry and bitterness.

Hoddle argued that teams in Birmingham and Manchester had fewer grudge games, and were therefore better placed to mount serious title challenges.

It’s a line he has stuck to for a quarter of a century. Hodd turns 60 this month, and it’s a good time to revisit the claim.

Chelsea stumbled against Palace and now face Watford this weekend… hamstrung. Identical injuries to Victor Moses, N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata mean Tony Conte won’t now be able to choose from a full squad until Manchester United visit the Bridge on bonfire night.

In the meantime, the rejuvenated Hornets fancy their chances in SW6 on Saturday lunchtime after defeating Arsenal last weekend.

Dennis Wise on the bus after the 1994 FA Cup defeat

Chelsea deserved nothing at Selhurst Park last weekend as Roy Hodgson extracted a battling performance from Palace to win the Eagles’ first points, cheered on by the Premier League’s noisiest crowd.

While Morata may start against Watford, it’s the rest of the team that must up their game. Conte wants his players to give 150% – an increase on the 120% demanded at the season’s start.

Inexplicably, Chelsea had a stronger squad last year with no European fixtures. Yet a dozen potential superstars of tomorrow are doing the business, week in week out, on loan.

What wouldn’t Conte give to instantly recall Tammy Abraham (scoring freely for Swansea), Izzy Brown (effervescent for Brighton) or Kurt Zouma (bamboozled by Man City at the weekend, but generally solid)?

Meanwhile Blues fans look wistfully at Kevin De Bruyne, flogged to Wolfsburg in 2014 then snapped up by City for £55million a year later; a world superstar allowed to slip through Chelsea’s fingers.

Conte is now thinking of four or even five fresh signings in January, especially if the club is still in Champions League contention.