Chelsea narrowly beat West Bromwich Albion to secure the Premier League title at the Hawthorns, thanks to a late Michy Batshuayi strike.
It was a result 2 years in the making. After all the heartbreak that Chelsea and their fans suffered through last season, Antonio Conte’s side have finally redeemed themselves by winning back the title from Leicester City with 2 games to spare.
While the manner in which they’ve surged to the top of the league and stayed there after September was nothing short of spectacular, the same cannot be said about their performance at the Hawthorns, in which they needed an 82nd minute Batshuayi strike to beat West Bromwich Albion.
Chelsea dominated possession of the ball in the first half but could make nothing of it. The Blues needed 14 shots at goal before getting 1 on target in the first half. The second half didn’t get any better for them and to compound their problems, West Brom began stepping up their game.
West Brom 0-0 Chelsea HT:
Pass accuracy: 75%-89%
Chances created: 2-12
Chelsea dominant thus far. pic.twitter.com/eEFp7Apwrt
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 12, 2017
Chelsea registered 14 shots in the first half. Just 1 was on target.
Lacking a clinical edge so far. pic.twitter.com/A9C5XXO6sX
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 12, 2017
It as beginning to look like ‘one of those days’ for Chelsea before Antonio Conte decided that he had to make a change. He brought off Eden Hazard and Pedro and sent on Willian and Michy Batshuayi, effectively making the formation a 4-4-2.
It was an inspired change, as 8 minutes later, Chelsea took the lead after Michy Batshuayi slid into the box to meet Cesar Azpilicueta’s low cross from the right and that sent the the visitors’ bench and fans into mad celebration.
Michy Batshuayi turned out to be the unlikely hero of the night and that goal was enough to give Chelsea their 6th League title. Chelsea were crowned Champions for the second time in 3 seasons and they were back to the top of the English top flight.
The Spaniard was arguably his side’s best player on a night when most of Chelsea’s big names went missing. It was an all round performance from Azpilicueta, who not only was an absolute rock in the Blues’ defence, but also contributed immensely going forward.
His performance could be best summed up by two major instances. The first instance in the 70th minute, when Salomon Rondon got past David Luiz and had made a break for the Chelsea box from inside Albion’s half, leaving the Brazilian and Gary Cahill for dead.
Cesar spots his run and immediately makes a 55-yard diagonal sprint back from deep inside Albion’s half and gets there just in time to prevent a one-on-one scenario with Thibaut Courtois and blocked the Venezuelan’s shot at the expense of the corner.
12 minutes later, Azpilicueta’s cross from the right flank was mishit by Gary Cahill and it fell back to the Spaniard’s feet, who sent in a low cross to a lurking Michy Batshuayi in Ben Foster’s 6-yard-box, and the Belgian made no mistake from point blank range.
With Conte, Hazard, Kante and Diego Costa hoarding on most of the limelight this season for their performances, Cesar Azpilicueta has quietly emerged as a key figure Antonio Conte’s squad this campaign and has adapted to his new manager’s philosophy and formations brilliantly. A strong contender to be named Chelsea’s new Captain next season.
The former Arsenal captain put in yet another superb shift in the middle of the park for Chelsea and ran the game from midfield. He played a role in nearly every chance that was created and needless to say, it would’ve been extremely frustrating for him to see them being wasted.
His side’s and also the games most prolific distributer of the ball, Fabregas completed 99 of his 109 attempted passes, Nemanja Matic comes in second with 74. 54 of those 99 passes came in the attacking third of the field, nearly twice as much as Eden Hazard’s 28, who comes in second.
He created 7 goalscoring opportunities over the course of the 95 minutes and recovered the ball 4 times when Chelsea lost possession. The numbers speak for themselves and had Hazard & co been more clinical, Fabregas would have added many more assists to his tally for the season.
It has a been difficult season for the Fabregas. After two years of being nearly untouchable in the Chelsea starting XI, he has had to deal with the arrival of N’golo Kante and a Nemanja Matic’s resurgence. However, he has made no fuss about it and has slowly won Conte’s trust.
Out of his 27 Premier League appearances this season, he has started only 12. But he has still managed 11 assists over the course of this season and after his two assists against Middlesbrough last week, became the first player to get 10 or more assists in 6 different Premier League campaigns.
Overall, 6 goals and 12 assists in 35 appearances across all competitions doesn’t make for bad reading when one takes into consideration that he has started only 17 of those matches. With another Premier League medal in his bag, is will be interesting to see if Conte gives him a chance to start against his former side Arsenal, when the two sides meet at Wembley for the FA Cup final.
Diego Costa & Eden Hazard
Prior to this match, the duo had been involved in 37 goals and 14 assists between them across all competitions this term and that figure should’ve increased significantly at Hawthorns, but it seems as if Chelsea’s biggest attacking threats had decided to leave their shooting boots at home.
Besides winning 4 fouls and attempting 3 shots at goal, Hazard did nothing worth noticing. As much as he tried, he could barely influence the game in a positive way and Antonio Conte seemed to have had enough of him in the 75th minute, bringing him off for Michy Batshuayi.
Diego Costa had a torrid time in front of goal. Out of his 4 shots, only 1 of them was on target. Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley had the situation well under control and the Spanish international could do nothing to perturb the defensive duo or even Marc Wilson, when he came on.
Conte’s explanation for taking of Hazard was that he seemed ‘tired’, so in light of that we will likely see the Belgian and possibly Diego Costa rested in Chelsea’s remaining two games, as they prepare for the FA Cup final against Arsenal on the 27th of this month.
Analysis Of Impact
Michy Batshuayi’s Chelsea Future
His last Premier League goal came in Chelsea’s 1-2 win over Watford in their second game of the season, back in August. 15 appearances from the bench later and with only his second League goal of the season, Michy Batshuayi won his side the Premier League title.
The Belgian has found it difficult to break into Antonio Conte’s first team season, given the lack of Champions League football and Diego Costa’s great form this season and 6 starts this season have come only in the FA Cup and the Capital One Cup.
But it is yet to be seen if this goal, his 6th of the season in all competitions, will be enough for Chelsea to keep him at the club next season. Due to his lack of minutes, the 23-year-old has been constantly linked with a temporary move away in the summer, in order to gain some experience.
Another factor that may determine this may be Chelsea’s summer transfer window activity. Diego Costa’s future remains unclear and even if the former Atletico Madrid forward stays, Chelsea may still want to add more firepower to their ranks to prepare for the Champions League.
However, this decisions will be left to Antonio Conte and Batshuayi still has time before the start of next season to improve on what his coach wants him too. As of now, it doesn’t seem like this single moment of magic will do the Belgian much good with regard to his first team chances for next season.
Chelsea MUST Hold On To Conte
The reasons for Chelsea’s capitulation last season to finish 10th in the League is another matter, but the Blues’ immediate rise back to the summit of the English top flight a year later is largely down to one man, who is also arguably Chelsea’s best summer signing – Antonio Conte.
This scale of this massive achievement will not be lost on Europe’s elite clubs and Antonio Conte, who has 2 seasons left on his current Chelsea contract, is rumoured to have clubs like Inter Milan and Barcelona interested in acquiring his services.
The Italian did take some time to get used to the Premier League and his squad and after a dismal transfer window in which Chelsea failed to acquire any of their top transfer targets, it seemed as if Chelsea’s realistic aim for the season would be to make it into the Champions League places.
But Conte was having none of it, and after a change of formation into a 3-4-3, Chelsea would blow past opposition to surge back to the very top of the League, leaving the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City in their wake.
He has brought the very best out of players like David Luiz, Pedro, Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso, while also pulling the likes of Nemanja Matic, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard back from the depths of mediocrity and back to the world class form of the season before.
Now, having secured Chelsea’s 5th Premier League title in the Roman Abramovich era, Antonio Conte has completed his 180° spin of Chelsea’s fortunes and the Blues must do everything in their power to keep him, even if that means making him the highest paid manager in all of Europe.