How Chelsea Won the Premier League Title
Chelsea were supposed to be good this season, but it was the two Manchester clubs who were expected to vie for the title.
Instead, after City's hot start, Chelsea ended up running away with the crown, brushing off an almost-got-serious Tottenham challenge late on to capture their third Premier League title in the past two years.
Let's briefly recap the season that was for Antonio Conte's Chelsea.
Just over a month into the season -- six games, to be exact -- Chelsea labored in eighth place, already eight points off the blistering pace set by Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, a side which took all three points from each of their first six matches.
This is exactly how the season was supposed to play out. Guardiola, a manager who has had immense success in his career but was just starting his first foray in England, brought with him an exciting style, and he was running roughshod over the league with a plus-13 goal differential through six matches.
People were wondering aloud if this City bunch could run through the league unbeaten. Spoiler alert: No, they couldn't.
City eventually came back to the pack, and Guardiola has yet to secure a Champions League spot with two matches remaining. Chelsea, on the other hand, caught fire after losing 3-0 at Arsenal in Matchweek 6.
A Defining Loss
That 3-0 loss at the hands of Arsenal ended up being the key turning point in Chelsea's campaign. It was a humbling defeat in which the Blues gave up three goals in the first half and mustered just two shots on target -- never looking to be on the Gunners' level for any part of the 90 minutes.
But Conte made a switch to a three-man back line, shifting to a 3-4-3 formation next time out at Hull, and his squad responded.
Chelsea went on a dominant 13-match winning streak to jump into the driver's seat in the Premier League. Now, obviously, any long winning streak is dominant by nature, but what the Blues did during this run was rather stunning.
In all, Chelsea outscored the opposition 32-4 during the season-changing run, so you could say the change to playing three at the back went well. The streak started with six consecutive clean sheets, and the Blues recorded 10 clean sheets over the 13-match span.
When the run began, Chelsea were languishing in eighth place, and when it ended, the league was theirs for the taking.
A Little Hiccup
With the rest of the league trying to figure out how to score on Conte's vaunted system, Tottenham gave everyone a glimmer of hope. Spurs defeated Chelsea, 2-0, in a rousing performance on January 4th, proving that Chelsea's 3-4-3 system could be beaten while cementing Tottenham's place as the Blues' chief competition for the title.
But even in a 2-0 defeat, Chelsea still allowed just two shots on goal. And after the loss, Chelsea got right back to their winning ways with a triumphant 3-0 win at holders Leicester City. The Blues strung together an eight-match unbeaten run -- winning six and drawing two -- to reaffirm their status as the team to beat.
Chelsea built up enough of a cushion that even when they lost twice (home to Crystal Palace and at Manchester United) in the span of four matches in April, their lead over Spurs never fell below four points.
The Blues' last major hurdle was a road fixture at Everton, and they cleared it in lopsided fashion, winning 3-0 at Goodison Park.
Stars Playing Like Stars
Chelsea have an elite star at each level of the field, and those guys played like stars this season.
Atop the formation, Diego Costa was Diego Costa, scoring a team-best 20 goals with 6 assists while being the madman and general terror that he is (9 yellow cards). After a poor season a year ago, Eden Hazard returned to his world-class ways in attacking midfield, netting 15 goals and dishing out 5 assists. Per WhoScored.com's rating system, Hazard was the highest-rated player in the Premier League.
Defensively, it may be impossible to overstate the impact defensive midfielder and summer signing N'Golo Kante had on this side. He led the Blues in tackles (3.6) and interceptions (2.5) per match and was named PFA Player of the Year for the Premier League. It's the second straight title for Kante as he was a key cog for Leicester last season. Over the last two years, Kante's teams have lost a mere eight times -- three at Leicester and five with Chelsea -- in 75 Premier League matches, so he's doing something right.
On the back line, the versatile Cesar Azpilicueta has been a stalwart, playing every minute of the season thus far while averaging 3.2 clearances, 2.2 tackles and 1.9 interceptions per match. Lastly, goalie Thibaut Courtois has racked up 16 clean sheets this season.
Last season we had a story for the ages as itty bitty Leicester won the most unlikely Premier League title in history. The Foxes rode a little bit of luck to the crown -- not only did some of the big clubs (cough, Chelsea, cough) have uncharacteristically down seasons, but Leicester benefited from some good fortune via penalties and 1-0 wins.
Chelsea was definitely aided by not having to balance European competition with domestic league play, but in terms of their on-field performance, they are convincing champs. (Note: The stats shown below do not factor in Monday night's result -- a 4-3 win over Watford -- because only two of Chelsea's regular starting lineup played in that affair.)
|Points Per Game Versus 7th-20th||2.7||1st|
|Shot Conversion Rate||14.40%||1st|
|Shots on Target Faced||97||1st|
|Starting XI Changes||38||1st|
In addition to leading the league in all those stats, they also ranked second in points per game versus teams in second through sixth (1.6), goals conceded (29) and clean sheets (16).
Tottenham had an outstanding season, especially when you factor in how little they spend compared to the other top dogs, but Chelsea have been the league's best side.
Chelsea will go for the double next week when they take on Arsenal in the F.A. Cup final, giving them a chance to add even more hardware to an already superb season. But the focus will soon shift to the 2017-18 campaign.
Last time the Blues won the crown (2014-15), they followed it up with a dud of a season, finishing in 10th place a year ago. Obviously, that will be on the club's mind throughout the summer.
Also, Chelsea will have a lot more on their plate next year as they return to the Champions League. As we touched on a minute ago, the Blues benefitted from a lighter schedule while fellow title competitors Manchester City and Tottenham had to compete in Europe as well as domestically. This lead to Chelsea only making 38 total lineup changes all season prior to their Matchweek 37 contest with Watford (in which they made 9 changes since they had already wrapped up the title). For reference, title winners usually make upwards of 100 lineup changes in a season, because they're typically competing on multiple fronts.
They'll have to utilize more squad rotation next year thanks to the addition of Champions League play, and they'll also be pressing their luck to be as fortunate with injuries -- or a lack of injuries -- as they were this season. That means they'll likely make some key additions this summer. With a stellar starting XI in place, it'll be interesting to see if Conte brings in players to challenge for a starting role or if he focuses on building squad depth with an emphasis on acquiring solid backups.
Regardless, next season's concerns can be put on hold for now as Chelsea celebrate a well-deserved and fairly straightforward title.