Chelsea’s fifth Premier League title was secured with Friday’s win at West Brom. West London Sport takes a look at some of the defining moments from a spectacular season.
All rise for Antonio
New season, new manager, new start and a refreshing new approach from the man in charge. The upsetting and tiresome end to Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge and the forgettable, meandering half a season that followed was replaced by Antonio Conte’s passionate start to life in west London.
A dramatic victory over West Ham is always welcomed. The fact Conte seemed to enjoy Diego Costa’s last-gasp winner in the season’s opening game even more than those at a packed Stamford Bridge endeared him to his new fans right from the off.
The running man
One of the most significant moments of Chelsea’s season was undoubtedly the main bit of summer transfer business. It’s not often a £30m signing can be described as a bargain but N’Golo Kante’s price tag soon seemed way below market value.
The future Professional Football Association Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Player of the Year was a star from the outset, bringing energy and dynamism where there wasn’t any, as well as providing a surprising amount of finesse and a range of passing few expected from the French midfielder.
Bruised, bloodied and beaten
Successive defeats in the home match against Liverpool and away at Arsenal saw a swift end to the optimism brought by three wins from the opening four league games.
A dismal first half saw the Blues outplayed and out-thought by Jurgen Klopp’s side, with Conte’s men well beaten at the Emirates. Potential title winners to also-rans in the space of nine miserable days. The 4-4-2 system was questioned, with David Luiz getting the bulk of the criticism.
I’ll do it my way
A tentative victory away at Hull after those back-to-back League defeats was the start of an incredible 13-game winning league run. But it didn’t feel particularly special at the time, with a feeling of relief the overwhelming emotion.
Conte’s much-hyped 3-4-3 formation got its first outing, with Cesar Azpilicueta steadily impressive in a back three, Luiz patrolling and cajoling and wing-backs Victor Moses – yes, Victor Moses – and Marcos Alonso bringing different threats out wide. Willian’s superb curling strike was swiftly followed by a similar Costa shot. A decent display, but no one would have believed it was the start of something special.
Mauling Mourinho’s United and goals galore
Dismantling Mourinho’s Manchester United 4-0 brought the third victory of the 13-game winning run but the 5-0 win over Everton was a performance that showed Chelsea had become serious title challengers. Against United, Pedro scored within 30 seconds, Mourinho’s side defended like a Sunday League team and Kante scored a brilliant fourth, slaloming through and finishing calmly.
Conte celebrated the win in typically wild fashion. And Jose was rattled, having a quiet word with Conte and then having another go at the Italian after the game. That glorious win was bettered two weeks later when Everton were blown away, with Eden Hazard at his mesmeric best. Chelsea moved to the top of the league – for good.
Trailing 1-0 away against Pep Guardioloa’s then media darlings Manchester City after 45 minutes, Chelsea hadn’t mustered a shot on target. Former Blues midfielder Kevin de Bruyne had missed a sitter to make it 2-0 as well. But the second half brought a stunning turnaround and showed Chelsea’s spirit, guile and an ability to win all types of games in all sorts of ways.
A delightful Cesc Fabregas pass teed up Costa for the equaliser, Willian counter-attacked to place in the second and Hazard steamed through late on to seal as clinical a win as you will ever see.
Arsenal thumped and Costa sticks around
With the 13-game winning run having been ended by Tottenham the previous month, and points dropped as Costa missed a penalty against Liverpool, a convincing win over Spurs’ out-of-sorts north London rivals Arsenal was vital. And it was delivered in style.
Hazard scored one of the goals of the season in the 3-0 win but of equal significance was the fact that Costa was still a Chelsea player. His form may have been questioned since a move to China or back to Atletico Madrid was first mooted, but the striker’s importance to the system is clear even if the goals dried up for a spell.
Finding a way
The cliches tell you to win a title you need to win ugly, win brilliantly, win luckily and win routinely. Chelsea did the lot, often showing all their various sides within one performance.
The home win against Manchester City saw a fine start bring a 1-0 lead thanks to Hazard. City bossed possession thereafter, equalising after a dreadful Thibaut Courtois error. But having been gifted a second goal from the penalty spot Conte shut up shop, riling Guardiola for the second time this season and closing out a crucial 2-1 win.
We shall not be moved
Shaking off Tottenham was proving tricky. Their nine wins from nine had taken the gloss off Chelsea’s six victories from eight, but Chelsea’s form was equally impressive given some much harder fixtures. The next match up was also safely negotiated. And if ever post-match reactions told a story, then the scenes that greeted the 3-0 win over Everton at Goodison Park looked very much like the moment when Chelsea’s players felt the title was theirs.
The hosts were no doubt smarting from their 5-0 drubbing earlier in the season, but from the moment Pedro curled home a fabulous first goal, Chelsea seized control. The Blues won at a canter to spark telling euphoric celebrations, with the by now familiar image of the ever-enthusiastic Conte leading the way. Tottenham were beaten by West Ham in their next game.
The unlikely hero
In the end, it was Michy Batshuayi, on as a substitute and having struggled to make an impact since his summer move, who clinched the title. The Belgian’s late goal at West Brom sparked wild celebrations. The job was done.