Chelsea claim Premier League title thanks to Hazard

Jose Mourinho’s men get the job done at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard celebrates after missing his penalty but scoring with the rebound header during the  Premier League match against Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard celebrates after missing his penalty but scoring with the rebound header during the Premier League match against Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

 

Chelsea 1 Crystal Palace 0

As Eden Hazard celebrated the goal that would ultimately settle everything, the outstanding performer in this season’s title race put his hand to his forehead and wiped his brow in a show of exaggerated relief.

Hazard had just seen possibly the most feeble penalty of his career come back off Julián Speroni, the Crystal Palace goalkeeper. He scored the rebound with an improvisational header and that was the moment Stamford Bridge could start to turn up the volume and soak in the club’s new status as champions.

Once again, they were a good notch or two down on the level of performance we saw before Christmas when Cesc Fàbregas played with such elegance, Diego Costa was battering opposition defences and there was undoubtedly a greater sense of adventure than we have seen during the last couple of months.

They are, however, so very accomplished at getting to where they want to be and that, in this case, was a pitch covered in blue ticker tape, all the usual victory songs booming out over the loudspeakers and the man with the microphone milking the moment. “Manchester United can’t catch us,” he began. “Manchester City can’t catch us. Arsenal can’t catch us.” Each sentence prompted a louder cheer than the one before.

In many ways it was the classic Chelsea performance we have seen so many times lately. John Terry showed again the remarkable influence he has on a team that never seems to be afflicted by nerves. Hazard flitted around dangerously and Fàbregas was never long off the ball. Yet Palace were adventurous opponents and Jose Mourinho’s substitutions late on smacked of a manager who does not give a fig what people say of his style. Kurt Zouma was brought on for Willian and Filipe Luís was introduced to replace Hazard. Chelsea finished the match with six defenders in their team, two of them playing in midfield, and nothing else on their minds but to suffocate the game in its final moments.

No doubt they will face more accusations of not winning thrillingly enough but Mourinho’s late changes also recognised they had been playing difficult opponents. Wilfried Zaha had caused them sporadic problems all afternoon and Palace matched them until that moment a minute before half-time when Hazard played a one-two with Willian and surged into the penalty area.

Hazard was picking up speed, darting between James McArthur and Adrian Mariappa and the decision to award a penalty was not free of controversy given that neither Palace player committed himself. McArthur was actually trying to pull his leg back and if Hazard was clipped it was mostly because he initiated the contact himself, already in midair.

Hazard’s penalty was struck so poorly that Speroni might reflect he should not just have saved it but made a better fist of holding on to the ball. Instead the rebound popped up invitingly for Hazard to brace his neck muscles and score at the second attempt.

Chelsea had not offered a great deal until that point other than a dipping free-kick from Didier Drogba that Speroni managed to claw away at the second attempt.

Terry’s sprawling block to turn away Jason Puncheon’s shot was also worthy of scrutiny because of the sense the ball might have struck his arm. Terry probably deserves the benefit of the doubt for some exceptional defending to get his body in the way and the Chelsea captain was superb in the second half as Alan Pardew’s team continued to attack with width and speed.

(Guardian service)

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