The Premier League Title Returns to Stamford Bridge
After months of waiting, Chelsea confirmed the inevitable: a 5th Premier League title would be coming to Stamford Bridge.
Becoming champions was probably the least surprising thing in this season, as Chelsea’s consistency since September built them a seven-point lead going into Friday’s match at West Bromwich Albion and gave them their first of three chances to clinch the title.
It only took one, though. A 1-0 victory over the Baggies at the Hawthorns was enough to propel the Blues over the line, and Monday night’s match against Watford at Stamford Bridge will simply be the start of a celebration that will culminate in John Terry and Gary Cahill lifting the Premier League trophy on the final day of the season.
However, just as expected, Tony Pulis’ West Brom side did not make this easy for the champions elect. Despite an unbeaten run of six matches, the Baggies are always a team that’s organised and tough to break down and can offer a threat on the break.
Just 20 seconds in, the hosts issued the first warning to the visitors that they weren’t about to roll over. A Darren Fletcher long ball found the head of Salomon Rondon whose looping header forced a smart save from Thibault Courtois who tipped it over the bar.
Cesc Fabregas retained his place in the starting eleven after his performance against Middlesbrough, and five minutes in nearly gave Chelsea the perfect start. A trademark long ball found Pedro beyond the West Brom backline, but Pedro couldn’t control the effort and lobbed his shot wide with Ben Foster in no man’s land.
Chelsea continued to put the home side on the back foot, dominating possession and forced the Baggies to defend with a back six at times. Just after the half-hour mark, Pedro nearly replicated his stunning goal against Everton as he let the ball roll across his body before curling the ball just wide.
Victor Moses nearly broke the deadlock just after the second-restart. The wing back had tormented James McClean for the entire first half and found just a touch of space inside the right corner of the penalty area and forced a save from Foster with his low shot.
West Brom continued to be pressed back into their own half but continued to offer the occasional threat on the counter. Second-half substitute Claudio Yacob’s long ball forward found Salomon Rondon on the halfway line. His turn on the ball left David Luiz in his wake, and as he charged through on goal, Cesar Azpilicueta nimbly came around on the cover to deflect his shot wide of the target.
A minute later, Chelsea were nearly caught on the counter again as the searched for the opening goal. Rondon again found space near the halfway line and his ball through to Jake Livermore opened up the Chelsea midfield and defence. Livermore’s clever ball for Nacer Chadli freed him up for a shot on goal, but he could only drag his shot wide with only Courtois to beat.
Antonio Conte, perhaps feeling a touch of urgency, withdrew Eden Hazard and Pedro for Willian and Michy Batshuayi to bring more energy to a side that were being frustrated by a West Brom side that were clearly up to the challenge.
On this night, West Brom’s resistance was finally broken in the 83rd minute by the unlikeliest of heroes. Azpilicueta’s initial cross from the right was headed down to Gary Cahill by Marcos Alonso. Cahill badly shanked his attempted volley, but Azpilicueta was the quickest to react and squared the ball for a Batshuayi to clip past Foster for only his second Premier League goal and the winning goal to clinch the Premier League title.
Conte celebrated wildly with his coaches on the touchline as the players piled on Batshuayi at the final whistle. The job is done in the Premier League. The FA Cup Final awaits.