CHELSEA 1 CRYSTAL PALACE 0: The manner in which Chelsea were transported over the line will continue to provoke debate, but Eden Hazard’s first half goal yesterday confirmed their success is beyond dispute.
Jose Mourinho’s side are champions having led the table from start of the season. While their triumph may not have provided enough excitement to satisfy everyone, the ruthless way in which they kept their rivals at arm’s length has been desperately impressive.
A dash of sparkle was finally injected into Chelsea’s run-in when blue and silver ribbons were sent flying into the air as the final whistle confirmed the club’s first title since 2010. Before that their performance had mirrored many of their efficient, if uninspiring, victories of recent weeks, but with the championship wrapped up with three games to go, no one can question the Stamford Bridge club are worthy champions.
The only period of doubt about the eventual destiny of the trophy came around the turn of the year when Manchester City reeled in Chelsea’s eight-point lead during a period when Mourinho’s side suffered their only two defeats of the league campaign. The wobble was quickly corrected and, two years after returning to the club, Mourinho is a champion once again.
“When you work so hard and you are champions, you feel you got what you deserve,” said the Chelsea manager. “That good feeling. For me, maybe a special feeling because I’m not the smartest guy to choose countries and clubs.
“I could choose another club in another country where it’s easier to be champions, but I chose the most difficult league in Europe. A club where I was happy before. In my country, they say don’t go back somewhere you were happy before because you risk that. So I took that risk. I’m so happy to win another Premier League title.”
Despite their dominance, the tag of ‘boring’ has become attached to Mourinho’s side recently, particularly when Arsenal supporters reinvented the taunt directed at the north London club during the George Graham years while Chelsea celebrated last weekend’s draw at the Emirates Stadium, a result that ensured the run-in would simply be a formality for the Blues. In the eyes of some, while there is much to admire about this Chelsea team, there is much less to love.
In many ways, yesterday’s performance summed up the second half of the club’s season. A flawless display of containment, capped by a moment of individual trickery from Hazard that was protected by a tactical tweak from Mourinho. Chelsea in a nutshell, although even the interest of owner Roman Abramovich appeared to waver when he was caught by the television cameras watching his latest group of players strangle the life out of Palace during the second half.
Mourinho, though, hasn’t won eight titles by taking unnecessary chances and as the concerns surrounding the fitness of Diego Costa grew since the turn of the year, the manager knew his side’s limited forward options – Didier Drogba and Loic Remy have hardly convinced as back up to the Brazil-born Spain international – could affect his ambitions.
The more eye-catching performances of the opening months of the season have been replaced with more studious displays but the telling fact is they have won six and drawn two of their eight matches during a period when a dip would have encouraged the chasing pack.
Inevitably, Mourinho dismissed any criticism of his side. “During the season we had some crucial moments that we coped with in a fantastic way,” said the manager. “First of January, when we were equal points with Man City after a heavy defeat against Tottenham, instead of being a turning point was our last defeat. From that moment, not one single defeat. Without Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic, Loic Remy, Ramires... the team was always there. I repeat, I think everybody knows that we deserve it. But some don’t say it. They know.”
And he added cryptically: “We deserve it. Everybody knows that.
The people who have a big face to say we don’t deserve it are the ones who, in my country, say the dogs bark and the caravan goes by.”
Mourinho clearly has no intention of allowing the barbs of others to halt his progress.
Yesterday his side also had a degree of fortune on their side. Unconvincing against a Palace side for whom Wilfried Zaha posed a constant threat on the visitors’ right hand side, they escaped an early penalty shout.
Then, a minute before the break, Hazard burst into the Palace box after exchanging passes with Willian and went down as he passed between James McArthur and Adrian Mariappa despite minimal contact.
The Belgian’s penalty was saved by Speroni but the rebound looped back towards Hazard who headed home. With the title in sight, Mourinho acted at half-time to introduce John Mikel Obi and double up on Zaha.
The subsequent introduction of Kurt Zouma and Filipe Luis, a second left-back, confirmed Chelsea were never going to wrap things up in a blaze of glory.
“You need to find a way to unlock that back five, with the goalie included,” said Palace manager Alan Pardew, when asked how Chelsea could be denied next season.
“It’s difficult to score goals against them. They always carry a threat, so it’ll have to be a very good side which tops this team next year. I’m sure Jose will add a bit more depth to this squad, too.”
Courtois 6; Ivanovic 6, Cahill 8, Terry 9, Apilicueta7; Matic 7, Fabregas 7; Cuadrado 5 (Obi 46, 6), Willian 7 (Zouma 84, 6), Hazard 7 (Luis 90, 6); Drogba 6.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-5-1):
Speroni 5; Mariappa 5 (Kelly 60, 6), Dann 7, Delaney 7, Ward 7; Puncheon 7 (Sanogo 70, 6), McArthur 6, Ledley7, Mutch 6 (Murray 60, 6), Zaha 8; Bolasie 7.
Kevin Friend 7
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