with Nick Pulford
Chelsea have found this season that records do not last forever, with their Stamford Bridge fortress at its most vulnerable in years, and the next round in the Premier League title battle promises to be the most severe test yet of their winning streak on the road.
Under Luiz Felipe Scolari, Chelsea have won all eight away games, adding to the three straight away wins they recorded at the end of last season to give them a new top-flight record of 11 consecutive away victories. On Monday night they will try to stretch that run to 12 at Everton, who are a tough nut to crack and on current form are the best team outside the big four.
Chelsea's perfect away record is in stark contrast to their home form, which has been patchy to say the least in recent weeks with just one win in five in the Premier League, plus a home draw with Championship side Burnley that led to their exit on penalties from the Carling Cup.
The theory that has gained common currency to explain the difference in Chelsea's home-and-away form is that a 4-5-1 formation with attacking fullbacks works much better on the road than at Stamford Bridge and that opponents are obliged to attack more at home, leaving Chelsea more space to exploit on the counter-attack.
Yet the problem is not exclusively of Scolari's making. Last season Chelsea had easily the best away form in the Premier League (seven points better than champions Manchester United) but drew too many games at home (seven out of 19) and that cost them the title. In each of the past two seasons, in fact, their record at Stamford Bridge was an identical 12 wins and seven draws.
That record highlighted a growing weakness in Chelsea's home performance, yet it has been thrown into sharper relief this season only because they have lost at home to Liverpool and Arsenal. The weakness, as well as their enduring strength on the road, was there before Scolari's arrival.
The question is whether Chelsea's strong away record can continue to bear the weight of their title challenge. Until now, Chelsea have had a relatively easy fixture list on the road - the highest-placed team they have played is Hull City and they have visited only one other team currently in the top half of the table (ninth-placed Wigan).
Chelsea's visit to seventh-placed Everton is the start of a run of much tougher away games. Their five away games after Everton are against top-half teams, including Manchester United, Liverpool and Aston Villa, so the pressure will be on Chelsea to maintain the momentum on the road.
Almost inevitably, Chelsea's away points will decrease in line with a rise in the standard of opposition. Yet, looking back at their last two non-title-winning seasons, and excluding their early-season wobble in the last campaign prior to Jose Mourinho's departure, Chelsea's away record against top-half teams has been excellent, with nine wins and just four defeats from 16 games. If this season's two wins against top-half teams are added, Chelsea's average in all those games is exactly two points per game.
Overall, against teams outside the big four, Chelsea's away record looks even more impressive. Since the start of the 2006/07 season, they have won 33 out of 40 in that category, including 11 out of 14 against non-big four teams that finished in the top half of the table or are currently in that zone.
Chelsea's big plus is their excellent defence, which has kept a clean sheet in 29 of those 40 away games against non-big four teams since the start of the 2006/07 season, including seven out of eight this season. With that defensive shield, the signs are that the Chelsea machine needs just a little tinkering, rather than a drastic overhaul, and they remain the team to beat in the race for the Premier League title.
Everton, in many ways, are a lesser version of Chelsea, and the similar make-up of the two sides is reflected in the head-to-head stats. Since David Moyes took charge at Everton, six of their eight league and cup meetings with Chelsea at Goodison Park have had under 2.5 goals.
Moyes has never found a way to beat Chelsea, losing 13 out of 18 meetings overall and six out of eight at Goodison. Everton's poor home form this season (just one win in eight) indicates that they will find it difficult to reverse the trend. Their best hope is to try to become the first team in 20 games to shut out Chelsea on the road - Everton have lost 17 out of 21 when conceding at home to the big four under Moyes, while winning all five when keeping a clean sheet. A Chelsea win to nil, perhaps 1-0 or 2-0, is much more likely.
Barcelona and Milan are the big teams to side with this weekend. Barca are the form team of Europe and can take advantage of Villarreal's poor run (one win in eight in all competitions) while Udinese (no win in seven in Serie A) face a tough task at Milan.
Birmingham, Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Swansea, Burnley, Wolves, QPR, Sheffield United, Walsall, Scunthorpe, Oldham, Tranmere, Rennes, Cagliari, Catania, Barcelona, Milan.
$200 Birmingham (HW, Sat), Swansea (handicap, Sat), Burnley (handicap, Sat), Wolves (AW, Sat), QPR (HW, Sat), Walsall (handicap, Sat), Scunthorpe (handicap, Sat), Rennes (handicap, Sat), Cagliari (HW, Sun), Catania (handicap, Sun), Barcelona (AW, Sun), Milan (HW, Sun). Last week: five winning bets out of 11.
Sam Allardyce has 21 games to save Blackburn - exactly the same length as his reign as Newcastle manager. He took 26 points at Newcastle and a repeat would give Blackburn 39 points at the end of the season, making it touch and go for relegation in such a tight season.
Blackburn Rovers v Stoke City
Bolton Wanderers v Portsmouth
Fulham v Middlesbrough
Hull City v Sunderland
West Ham United v Aston Villa
West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City
Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur
Arsenal v Liverpool
Everton v Chelsea