What ultimately won Chelsea the Premier League, which it did in a late 1-0 victory at a mirthless West Bromwich Albion on Friday, wasn’t any of its signature victories this season.
It wasn’t the 4-0 destruction of Manchester United in October, or the pair of 3-0 defeats of defending champions Leicester City. Or even doing the double over preseason favorites Manchester City, or the wins over Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
The points against West Brom, courtesy of the expensively-bought but little-used Michy Batshuayi’s 82nd-minute close-range dink, put second-place Tottenham Hotspur out of striking distance. Chelsea’s 10-point lead can’t be made up by Spurs in their three remaining games. But this win merely confirmed the impending fact of Chelsea’s second title in three years and fifth in a 13. The points won at West Brom weren’t the tipping point, either.
What made Chelsea champion is that Antonio Conte’s team dropped just seven points against teams outside of the top six. It was a ruthless efficiency that churned point after point into the Blues’ column with a reliability and predictability that made the title feel inevitable. Even though Chelsea went a rather pedestrian 5-4-1 (W-L-T) against teams in the top six.
Because nobody else could match this consistency. To underscore the point, let’s compare and contrast those seven dropped points with the five big clubs to fall short of the title this year.
Second-place Tottenham spilled 13 points to teams outside the top six. Third-place Liverpool gave up 28. Manchester City gave away 16. Arsenal gave up 18. And Manchester United dropped 23.
Chelsea, in other words, wasted six fewer points than any of their rivals. And this, not coincidentally, will be roughly the margin by which Chelsea will likely end up winning the title.
On Friday, it surprised absolutely nobody that West Brom manager Tony Pulis would shut things down in a home game against a superior team and play for a point. This severe Pulis-ing made for a mostly drab game in which the biggest highlight until the winning goal was the temerity of this Jonny Evans handball.
Jonny Evans with possibly the greatest deliberate hand ball since Maradona. pic.twitter.com/w7RumwkRg7
— Andy Ha (@_AndyHa) May 12, 2017
Salomon Rondon had actually given Chelsea a scare early on with a long header that Thibaut Courtois could only just tap over his bar. But West Brom then closed up shop. All Chelsea managed to make of the first half was a deep Cesc Fabregas daisy-cutter that skimmed just wide of the far post, and a Diego Costa shot that he whacked into the stands from a turn.
There were shots aplenty, but they were mostly of low quality.
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
Early on in the second half, West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster, evidently in a mood to play spoiler to Chelsea’s victory party, sprawled to save a quick, low shot from Victor Moses.
West Brom, for its own part, was largely uninterested in playing soccer.
HEAT MAP: West Brom's heat map tells the whole story.
Standing firm. ✊ pic.twitter.com/U4kttmp3iR
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 12, 2017
Until the Baggies began counterattacking midway through the second half, that is, resulting in chances for Rondon and Nacer Chadli. And of course, as these things go, this incited Chelsea’s winner.
Gary Cahill badly shanked a shot but Cesar Azpilicueta kept it in play and zipped a low cross into the goal mouth. Batshuayi, the Belgian striker who has done almost nothing for Chelsea this year with a lone league goal, slid onto it and redirected it behind Foster with his left foot.
— Chelsea GIFs (@ChelseaGIFs) May 12, 2017
10/10 celebration pic.twitter.com/8CPg10b6TJ
— Zito (@_Zeets) May 12, 2017
— Michy Batshuayi (@mbatshuayi) May 12, 2017
Chelsea, in the end, got the result. And that’s just how it won the 2016-17 Premier League – getting results.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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