West Brom 0 Chelsea 1: Antonio Conte came, he saw, and last night he conquered as Chelsea were crowned Premier League champions.
They had to grind it out here in the Black Country, defeating West Bromwich Albion 1-0 to secure the title with two games to spare thanks to Michy Batshuayi’s goal in the 82nd minute.
Despite Tottenham’s attempts to push Chelsea all the way, this has long been the Blues’ Premier League title to lose and indeed they have sat top of the table since the middle of November.
They have scored more goals than any other side in England’s top flight, 76 to be precise, and they have only been as prolific as that in one other season — during the 2009/10 campaign when they ended up with 103 goals to their name.
They were not always at their flowing best under the lights at the Hawthorns, but they got the job done in front of a small group of away fans — some of whom had reportedly stumped up £1,800 (€2,120) to be there.
The victory means Chelsea have claimed the Premier League in five of the last 13 years, a record that can only be beaten by Manchester United.
It also means Conte is now the fourth manager to win the title in his first season, joining an illustrious list of Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho, and Manuel Pellegrini.
Chelsea started like a team hungry and eager to get the job done, rather than drag it out to Monday’s match with Watford.
Conte, who was searching for his fourth successive league title having won Serie A three times on the spin with Juventus, was his usual all-action self on the sideline, waving his arms and urging forward the unchanged XI he named after Monday’s win over Middlesbrough.
However, it was West Brom who went close after a matter of seconds as Salomon Rondon’s header was tipped over the bar by Thibaut Courtois.
That, though, proved to be nothing more than a flash in the pan — other than the odd counter — as Chelsea proceeded to find their rhythm.
Gary Cahill was inches away from finding the net from Cesc Fabregas’s free-kick and Pedro fired over from the edge of the box as another cleverly worked set-piece went close.
Chelsea were beginning to turn the screw and Eden Hazard was starting to find the pockets of space that had made him such a threat this season.
However, as Cahill saw another back-post effort blocked, it was clear a familiar theme was starting to develop with half an hour of the match gone. Chelsea could have all the possession they wanted, but West Brom were not going to roll over and hand them the title.
The visitors were getting ever closer though. First, Fabregas fired a shot inches wide and then Pedro, cutting in from the right, saw an effort whistle past the same post as the two sides went in level at half-time.
Chelsea returned for the second half knowing they needed to sharpen up.
They may have had 14 shots in the first half, but only one of those was on target and some fine-tuning was required to find the back of the net. They got their second of the night moments after the break, as Ben Foster had to be at full stretch to deny Victor Moses’ stinging drive.
Hazard was looking livelier too and his mazy run through the West Brom defence almost saw the ball end up in the net, only for Claudio Yacob to hack the ball of the line.
Time was ticking away for Chelsea to wrap the title up and as Diego Costa fell flat on his backside when trying to find space in the box, you got the sense that with 30 minutes to go it just wasn’t going to be their night.
With 15 minutes to go, Conte decided to roll the dice and on came Willian and Batshuayi as Chelsea shifted to a 4-4-2.
And just as so much has for Conte this season, it worked as Batshuayi came up with goods with eight minutes to go.
Cahill shanked a shot wide, but Azpilicueta was able to divert it goalwards into the path of Batshuayi to wrap up the points and the title.
Teams West Brom (4-5-1):
Foster 6; Dawson 7, McAuley 7 (64 Wilson 5), Evans 7, Nyom 6; Brunt 5, Livermore 6, Fletcher 7, Field 6 (51 Yacob 4), McClean 6 (59 Chadli 5); Rondon 4.
Subs not used:
Myhill, Morrison, Leko, Robson-Kanu.
Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 7, David Luiz 7, Cahill 6; Moses 6 (85 Zouma 5), Matic 6, Fabregas 7, Alonso 6; Pedro 7 (75 Batshuayi 7), Diego Costa 5, Hazard 6 (75 Willian 6).
Subs not used:
Begovic, Terry, Ake, Kante.
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