The Guardian / UK: When the decisive moment arrived there were a few moments when Antonio Conte gave the impression he might actually run all the away from the touchline to join in the victory scrum. Chelsea’s manager made it half a dozen yards on to the pitch before checking back but he did not have to wait to long before he could be with his players and his first season in the Premier League was assured of a happy ending.
For Chelsea, it was the moment that confirmed their fifth title in the last 13 years and the only downside of a glorious night for the new champions was the fighting that broke out in the home stands after the substitute Michy Batshuayi had delivered the telling blow. Chelsea have played a lot better at times this season but there can be no doubt they have been the best team in the country. It has never been a bad trait for a team at the top of the league to win without being at their best and Tottenham Hotspur know now that their last game at White Hart Lane – at least as we know it – when Manchester United head south on Sunday will be for nostalgia rather than trying to keep up the chase. Football is a cruel game sometimes. “Tottenham Hotspur, we’re laughing at you,” was the new addition to the Chelsea songbook.
It finished with Conte getting the bumps in front of the Chelsea fans who had packed into the Smethwick End hoping the Hawthorns might finally bring them some joy. Two of Chelsea’s recent managers, André Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo, lost their jobs after jarring defeats at this ground. That, however, felt like a long time ago as the away end went through their victory songs, David Luiz showed off his samba and the triumphant players decided it was time to start throwing John Terry in the air. Even Frank Lampard joined in the celebrations at one stage, leaving the touchline and his television role to embrace some of his old team-mates.
Ultimately, it will not matter that Chelsea put in a stodgy performance or that Pedro and Eden Hazard faded so badly they were substituted. Those were just minor details after that moment, 81 minutes in, when Chelsea pressed forward for the goal that would mean so much. César Azpilicueta provided the pass. Batshuayi prodded his shot past Ben Foster and those were the moments when all that pent-up emotion could be released. Leicester City’s time is over but the ribbons on the championship trophy will still be blue and Chelsea will look forward to being reunited with it when they play Sunderland at Stamford Bridge next weekend.
It took a while to conjure up the decisive goal but every team that finish in Chelsea’s position need a resilient streak. Chelsea came up against obdurate opponents and it was difficult to remember at times that West Brom have been in the worst form of any Premier League side since the beginning of April, taking only two points from seven games and having previously set an unwanted club record of failing to score five times in a row.
The oddity of Tony Pulis’s managerial career is that he is known for his motivational powers yet West Brom, like Stoke before them, have a habit of tailing off once they know they are safe. In total, Pulis has won only six out of 45 games after reaching 40 points. This was West Brom’s fourth successive 1-0 defeat, although in fairness nobody could accuse them of playing without desire. Pulis’s team caused grievous damage to Tottenham’s title hopes with a draw at White Hart Lane last season and they looked determined to show they could influence this title race, too.
There were also times when Chelsea, perhaps in their desperation to make the breakthrough, looked unusually ragged at the back. Salomón Rondón and the substitute Nacer Chadli had chances to punish them in the second half and in those moments it was unusual to see Conte’s team so vulnerable to the counterattack.
For most of the night, however, Chelsea were on top without being able to find a way through a team that spent parts of the game with a defensive line of six players. Conte’s men began like a team in a hurry. Cesc Fàbregas showed again he is an elegant replacement for N’Golo Kanté. Hazard and Pedro flitted around dangerously while Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso demonstrated why they have become such important players.
At various times this season Chelsea have been depicted as a counterattacking team – defence-orientated, if you listen to José Mourinho – but they can actually adapt their game in many ways and this was one of the occasions when they tried to overwhelm their opponents. Their problem was finding the killer pass. Foster is a difficult goalkeeper to beat and, though it was quickly forgotten by the end, the shot from Hazard that went out for a throw-in midway through the second half might well have been his least distinguished moment of the season.
Perhaps Chelsea had also allowed a bit of apprehension to creep in, too. Passes were rushed, shots snatched. For all their possession, the goal was really the only moment of the night when they created a clear opportunity inside the penalty area. But then the ball was at Batshuayi’s feet, Conte’s fists were raised and it was an explosion of joy behind the goal.