Chelsea's Petr Cech: it's us and Manchester's big two for title

Everton, Tottenham and Arsenal can look away now - the Premier League is already a three-horse race

Petr Cech has little doubt about who will contest this season's championship. After the opening 11 matches the Premier League has unfolded into a race between Chelsea, Manchester City, the champions, and Manchester United, the leaders. This development has come about as each club's attack compensates for leaky defences that have all suffered from injuries.

Below the two Manchester clubs and the European champions, the field has not yet disappeared, though Everton and West Bromwich Albion's 20 points have them trailing United by seven, while Tottenham Hotspur are 10 back, Arsenal 11 and Liverpool a gaping 15.

Asked if the title is already a three-way tussle, the Chelsea goalkeeper said: "It looks like it as the Manchester clubs have been consistent in getting points. We have lost some points and they did at the start of the season, so it looks like we will be the three teams that will chase the title."

At United a goal glut has stacked up 29, with Robin van Persie's eight in nine starts leading the club's 13 different scorers, while City have managed a more modest 20, and Chelsea 23. Yet all have had issues stopping sides scoring, though Roberto Mancini's side now look at the table and see the fewest goals allowed – 10 (alongside Stoke City) – while Chelsea are just a strike worse off. Manchester United have shipped 16 but, as with City, their determination and ability to come back from conceding first has been one of the narratives of the campaign.

Fulham, Southampton, Liverpool, Stoke and Aston Villa have all been beaten when taking the lead against Sir Alex Ferguson's men. City's own spirit of Lazarus has avoided defeat when yielding first to Southampton, Liverpool, Stoke, Fulham, West Brom and, on Sunday, Tottenham, in a contest turned by Mancini's second-half switch to a 3-5-2.

Of the win over Villa Chris Smalling told MUTV: "All season we've been capable of getting two or three goals in each game, so we knew our chances would come." Two finishes from Andreas Weimann gave Villa the lead before Javier Hernández took over. "Chicharito" scored on 58 and 87 minutes and may yet be awarded a hat-trick depending on the Dubious Goals Panel adjudication of a finish that beat Brad Guzan via Ron Vlaar.

This may be a white-knuckle ride for fans but Ferguson hopes to rid United of their generosity, a sentiment echoed by Smalling. "We know we can play like that from the start – I don't know why we don't," he said.

Sunday's 1-1 home draw with Liverpool meant over a fortnight Chelsea have surrendered a four-point lead while City's win over Spurs was their first in the same period. Chelsea have not managed a clean sheet in the league since 22 September, and Cech said: "We need to find the right balance. Defensively against Liverpool we did well. We didn't allow them chances, they scored from a corner but in the last 10 minutes when we completely opened the game, they created chances. We need to have more concentration at both ends, when we defend and when we have chances to kill the game off. This will be the key for us."

John Terry scored for Chelsea before Roberto Di Matteo lost his best defender for the next few weeks with a knee ligament injury after tackling Luis Suárez. Ashley Cole was absent due to a pulled hamstring, and his presence in the team is also threatened by the long-standing ankle problem he manages. Terry's lay-off means the unreliable David Luiz will partner Gary Cahill so City will feel they can get at the Chelsea defence when travelling to Stamford Bridge later this month.

Injury has also affected all of United's central defenders. Nemanja Vidic's return from damaging cruciate ligaments ended against Galatasaray in September with a further knee injury, while Phil Jones suffered a similar problem in October when hoping to play for the first time this season due to a back issue. Smalling has only just returned from a broken metatarsal while Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand have missed games as Ferguson's hopes of a settled rearguard have been scotched.

At City, despite Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Macion and Pablo Zabaleta having injuries of varying degrees of seriousness, Mancini's big problem has been the average form of Vincent Kompany, the captain, and his attempt to bed in Matija Nastasic due to a distrust of Lescott. They have conceded eight goals from set pieces this season, including Steven Caulker's header for Tottenham on Sunday.

Attrition forms City's major challenge. Winning the league breeds a second season syndrome as retaining the Premier League is a tough ask. Only Chelsea (in 2005, 06) and United (four times) have managed it. At City this has been quickly learned in a bumpy opening to a defence which, despite stuttering, reaches mid-November with the division's only unbeaten record.

And the revival against Spurs, sealed by Edin Dzeko's 88th-minute winner, has the sign of champions, Joe Hart believes. "Of course, that's the only way you're going to win things because people are snapping at your heels," he said. "Someone said before the quality we've got on top of our character means we're going to do well."

Cech added: "We just need to be strong to go game by game, getting points, because this is the only way you'll win the league. You need to look forward and assemble as many points as you can. If you get around 90 points you should be fine."

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