Chelsea ensured their name will be etched on the Premier League trophy for the first time in five years, after beating Crystal Palace 1-0 to confirm what has long been inevitable. It was fitting that the title was clinched with a performance like this. As has been the case now for several months, Chelsea failed to come close to producing the free-flowing attacking play of the first half of the season. But Jose Mourinho’s side again excelled at simply getting the job done. Ultimately the championship-clinching victory came with a helping of fortune as Eden Hazard made the most of limited contact, going down in the box and then needing a second attempt to beat Julian Speroni after his spot-kick had been repelled.
But there can be no question that Chelsea are worthy champions. After blowing teams away last autumn, looking a class above anything else England’s top division had to offer, they have been grindingly efficient since fatigue and took hold. Having thrown away points in the closing weeks of last season -- not least in a defeat to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park -- there was to be no mistake this time around.
On Sunday, Chelsea were again missing Diego Costa, who now won’t be required and is likely to sit out the remainder of the season. And they struggled to get through a Palace team eager to play spoiler and bounce back from defeats in their last two matches that had halted their exceptional upward trajectory under Alan Pardew. Palace might have had a penalty themselves when Jason Puncheon’s shot deflected off the boot of Cesar Azpilicueta and against the arm of the sliding John Terry. Instead, it was Chelsea that shortly before halftime got the benefit of a penalty award. Hazard burst between Adrian Mariappa and James McArthur, with the PFA Player of the Year going down off contact from the latter. Picking himself up and striking tamely straight down the middle, Speroni stood firm to block the effort from 12 yards, but Hazard breathed a sigh of relief as the ball came straight back to him to head into the corner of the net.
While the second goal failed to arrive to give Chelsea fans the license to celebrate early, Mourinho in familiar fashion locked down the game in the second half to see his side over the line. For the Portuguese, who thrives on winning above all else like perhaps no other manager, it his third title with Chelsea, but first since returning to the club. And it is his first league championship anywhere since leading Real Madrid to La Liga glory three years ago. Chelsea have been dominant winners, and by the end of the campaign will have broken the record for time spent at the top of the table in a single season.
Despite their title have long appeared a certainty, Mourinho has stuck to his tried and tested formula, avoiding experimentation or risk at every turn. His lineups have been remarkably consistent, with only 22 players used this season, but an injury to Ramires in the warm-up meant Juan Cuadrado getting just his third start since arriving for big money in January.
Palace were determined to make it difficult for their opponents. With striker Glenn Murray surprisingly left out, Yannick Bolaise went up front and Palace played with a line of five in midfield to deny Chelsea space to play through. It was only two errant pieces of goalkeeping from Speroni that provided Chelsea with sights of goal in the opening 30 minutes.
But the game ultimately swung on a penalty not given to Palace and one soon presented to Chelsea. After Hazard found the net at the second time of asking, he wheeled away theatrically wiping his brow in relief. Mourinho, though, wasn’t about to believe that the title had yet been won. At halftime, off came Cuadrado and on came midfield screener John Mikel Obi. By the end of the 90 minutes two further security measures were introduced in Kurt Zouma and Filipe Luis. Mourinho was determined that there would be no slip-ups and, although there was the occasional nervy moment, his side prevailed to let the celebrations begin.