Chelsea Lifts EPL Trophy, With New Record
Champions Chelsea became the first English side to register 30 top-flight victories in a 38-game season as they said farewell to captain John Terry with a comfortable Premier League win over bottom club Sunderland.
The Blues, who sealed their sixth top-flight title nine days ago, fell behind to an early Javier Manquillo strike but hit back quickly through Willian’s angled drive.
Eden Hazard lashed in his 17th goal of the season to give the home side the lead before his replacement, Pedro, capitalised on a poor backward header from Joleon Lescott to head in.
Another substitute, Michy Batshuayi, ensured the win was an emphatic one with two well-taken finishes late on to end his season with five goals in three games.
It was an emotional send off for defender Terry, who left the field in tears to a guard of honour from his team-mates in a pre-planned substitution in the 26th minute, matching his shirt number.
Jermain Defoe missed what may well have been his last game as a Sunderland player with a hamstring injury as the Black Cats’ 10-year stay in the Premier League came to an end with their 26th defeat of the season.
The stats behind Chelsea’s success this season are impressive: 30 wins in total, 15 victories out of 16 at home, 83 points from the last 96 available to them and 85 goals scored, making this their second-best ever Premier League season in front of goal.
Admittedly, the Blues hugely underachieved during last season’s title defence, but this has been an impressive and emphatic return to form for which Conte must take much of the plaudits.
The Italian has restructured the side, most notably through his adoption of a 3-4-3 formation in the aftermath of September’s 3-0 loss at Arsenal, and restored their swagger – something that was fully evident in Sunday’s final fixture.
Sunderland briefly went off script with Manquillo’s opener – coming from a Seb Larsson free-kick – but once Willian had restored parity there was only ever going to be one winner.
Playing within themselves, Chelsea were still way too good for the Black Cats, fashioning 28 shots to their opponent’s seven. The only surprise was that they did not take more of them prior to the floodgates opening late on thanks to Hazard, Pedro and Batshuayi.
The latter’s late-season contribution is further proof that all is well at Stamford Bridge right now. Restricted to cameo appearances for much of his first season in England, the Belgian striker has shown in the last three games he is capable of replacing Diego Costa, who continues to be linked with a summer move to China.
Stamford Bridge was adorned with banners dedicated to captain Terry, many of them hailing him as the Blues’ ‘captain, leader and legend’.
Since making his debut as a late substitute in a League Cup tie against Aston Villa in October 1998, the centre-back has become synonymous with the Blues, and in the Roman Abramovich era he has been their standout academy player amongst a raft of big-money recruits.
His 26th-minute substitution, which halted the game while he was given a guard of honour by his own team, was of his own design as a fitting way to say goodbye to the club that has been his home for 22 years.
His real parting moment, though, came after full-time when he and his natural successor as Blues captain, Gary Cahill, held aloft the Premier League trophy – the 15th major trophy the 36-year-old has won during his time at the club.