Just a blip?

With three games of the Premier League season gone, Chelsea sit fourth, overshadowed – like everyone else – by the Manchester clubs.

Few seem to think they can win the title and that opinion has, if anything, been enhanced by the performances so far.

Last year’s season-opening 6-0 mauling of West Brom became an arguably fortunate 2-1 victory this time around. And the ponderous attacking and defensive frailty which hallmarked that performance were on show again in the 3-1 win over Norwich.

While the travails of Chelsea’s attackers – most notably, of course, £50m man Fernando Torres – have been well documented, problems at the back have also been causing alarm .

But are things really that bad? Chelsea are unbeaten and have only conceded two goals. Sounds all right. Look beyond the scorelines though and maybe there is cause for alarm.

Chelsea’s defensive stability used to be legendary. It was what Jose Mourinho’s title wins were built upon – only 15 goals conceded in 38 league games in 2004-05.

And while the miserliness of the Blues’ defence never quite reached those heights again, through the various changes of manager it was nearly always taken as a given that Chelsea would be tough at the back.

Yet this season, aside from his mistake against Norwich, Hilario has made some good saves in the two games he’s played. And he’s had to.

Match of the Day’s pundits have already devoted an analysis session to asking “why is it so easy to get behind Chelsea’s back four?”.

Certainly a few eyebrows were raised over the absence of Branislav Ivanovic, a defensive rock at either right-back or in the centre for the past couple of years, from the starting line-up in the opening two games.

But Jose Bosingwa, something of a forgotten man after injury and a player many thought might leave in the summer, has played well so far at right-back, coming up with an assist for Florent Malouda’s winner against West Brom and a fantastic goal of his own against Norwich.

And the restoration of a fully-fit Alex to the centre of defence alongside John Terry should not have been a gamble.

Terry is now in his 30s and while he’s still a great reader of the game and leader of men, strong as an ox and supremely brave, there is no denying he can be beaten for pace.

Against West Brom it was the speed of Shane Long and Somen Tchoye which caused the back four problems but against Norwich the man who ghosted into space behind the centre-backs on more than one occasion was Grant Holt. His surname rhymes with Usain Bolt’s but there the similarities end.

So have Chelsea been defending too far up the field, allowing room for opponents to run into? Maybe. Are the club’s key defenders getting old all at once? Maybe. Terry and Ashley Cole are both 30, though Cole is still lightning quick.

Or is the answer simply that the early-season fragility has been a temporary blip? Quite likely.

It has happened before. During the brief tenure of Luis Felipe Scolari, Chelsea let in a couple of goals from crosses and suddenly had a reputation for being incapable of defending a high ball. It was quickly forgotten – because it was never more than a temporary aberration.

There were no defensive arrivals during the summer transfer window, despite the reported courting of Porto’s Alvaro Pereira, so Andre Villas-Boas must make do with what he has got.

Cult hero David Luiz is close to a return from injury but for all the ability he has displayed since his arrival in January, he is not the man to pin your defensive hopes upon.

Memories of his first-minute gaffe at Old Trafford at the end of last season should loom almost as large as those of his skill on the ball, extravagant passing and twice as many goals as Torres.

So maybe Chelsea fans just have to hope the early-season errors are teething problems and nothing more.

Fans of virtually any other club would love to have Chelsea’s defenders in their squad.

And any manager who learned much of what he knows from Mourinho is always going to have a close eye on his defence, so perhaps Villas-Boas should just be trusted to sort things out – even if he doesn’t have defensive mastermind Steve Clarke alongside him like his mentor did.

But he might have to hurry up about it – it’s only a fortnight until Chelsea go to Old Trafford. And we all know what happened last time they played at home to a London club who used to have a reputation for defensive brilliance.

James Clarke is a journalist and author of ‘Moody Blues: Following the second-best team in Europe.’