Serbia defender Branislav Ivanovic has put Chelsea’s poor run of form down to a bad reaction to winning the Premier League title.
The capital club lost only three of 38 top-flight games when becoming champions last season, winning the title by eight points, and conceded the fewest goals (32) of the teams in the top four.
This time around and the west Londoners have won only three of their opening 11 games and trail leaders Manchester City by 14 points, while under-pressure manager Jose Mourinho has seen his tenure come under attack.
Ivanovic says Chelsea have not responded well to being crowned champions and accepts results must improve.
“Everyone expects us to be on top, but we didn’t start well,” Ivanovic told Sky Sports. “There is always extra pressure when you are champions, and the whole team didn’t react well after winning the trophy.
“In the Premier League every team is competitive and can win even against the top teams. It is why it is important to go step by step, and I hope we will be back in a good position.”
Mourinho suggested recently he could not guarantee the club Champions League football for next season and experienced defender Ivanovic said he and his team-mates were not even thinking about securing a top-four finish.
“No one in the team is thinking about that,” he added. “We are thinking only about [next opponent] Stoke. The season is so long and difficult it’s not the moment to think about the final position.”
Mark Hughes’ men are currently priced 3.80 in the match betting and the draw outcome is quoted 3.40. Chelsea are available to back at 2.00.