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Chelsea have been crowned 2016-17 Premier League champions after beating West Bromwich Albion 1-0 at the Hawthorns on Friday to move 10 points clear thanks to unlikely hero Michy Batshuayi.
The late substitute poked home an 83rd-minute winner to snatch a fifth Premier League trophy for the west London outfit with only his second goal for the campaign.
Second-placed Tottenham Hotspur can no longer hope to chase down the Blues’ unassailable lead, and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte stormed to a maiden Premier League triumph in his first season in English football:
Chelsea bolted out of the gates and immediately took to the front foot, with Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses heavily involved down the left and the right, respectively, while Eden Hazard was busy from the first minute.
West Brom manager Tony Pulis has a habit of loading his defence against bigger teams in a bid to operate on the counter, and Friday’s fixture was no different, as Chelsea often had to attack against a heavily occupied back line.
The tactic almost paid dividends for the Baggies on two occasions around the 20th minute, when James McClean sprang free of his markers but failed to make the most of any overlaps with wasteful passes in the final third.
West Brom were 1-0 losers at Stamford Bridge in December when Diego Costa scored the only goal, and Match of the Day showed a similar weight of possession developed in the first half at the Hawthorns:
Match of the Day @BBCMOTD
76.8% possession for Chelsea so far – and most of the game being played in West Brom’s half.
Pressure… https://t.co/I88tUKF1qJ https://t.co/J1zZ204J92
5/12/2017, 7:22:37 PM
Pulis’ men weathered the early storm of Chelsea’s assault and looked capable of threatening Thibaut Courtois’ goal, while Cesc Fabregas and Pedro had the best chances of the first half with stinging drives from outside the box.
There was an odd case of a handball going unnoticed when Jonny Evans clearly dragged possession away from Fabregas with the use of his limb, but referee Michael Oliver appeared to miss the incident despite standing yards away.
The home side’s priority of stopping Chelsea first and attacking second resulted in a fairly uneventful opening 45 minutes, however, as DW Sports reporter Ross Dunbar illustrated the general first-half reaction:
The Blues showcased more vigour after the interval, and Baggies goalkeeper Ben Foster was forced into some early heroics, producing a secure save to deny Moses’ dangerous effort from range.
Craig Dawson had to be saved from scoring an own goal attempting to clear a Hazard cross inside the 18-yard box, and a stacked West Brom back line just about managed to crowd out any Chelsea forays inside the area.
Pulis’ substitutes did their bit to disrupt the visitors’ momentum, however, as anchorman Claudio Yacob and wing maestro Nacer Chadli added a fresh perspective moving forward with the ball.
David Luiz almost gifted West Brom the opener with 20 minute remaining when Salomon Rondon breezed past the last defender before bearing down on Courtois’ goal, and PA’s Matt McGeehan paid the Venezuelan high praise:
Matt McGeehan @mattmcgeehan
Rondon out-performing Costa tonight. Pressure from Azpilicueta denies Rondon on the break
5/12/2017, 8:27:11 PM
The hosts enjoyed a turn in confidence from that point and spurned another chance through Chadli almost immediately after Rondon’s near miss, with Chelsea no longer the domineering party they were earlier in the clash.
Batshuayi and Willian came on in place of Hazard and Pedro with 15 minutes remaining, and the former was in the right place at the right time following a pinball-like piece of play inside West Brom’s box to decide the fixture.
Foster was finally beaten at close range after Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross from the left found Batshuayi unmarked in front of goal, and Goal’s Nizaar Kinsella pointed to the almost poetic nature of his often-uneventful campaign:
Nizaar Kinsella @NizaarKinsella
Michy Batshuayi has had an awful season but that’s why you put the minutes in training. For moments like that. #WBACHE #CFC
5/12/2017, 8:40:20 PM
Coming back from behind would always be a difficult pursuit for the defensively oriented West Brom, and seeing out a one-goal lead suited Conte’s tactics down to the ground.
The away end erupted at the Hawthorns as Chelsea finally sealed their fifth Premier League triumph, although Conte’s passionate reaction upon seeing Batshuayi’s strike hit the back of the net is what caught the attention, per Squawka News:
Squawka News @SquawkaNews
Antonio Conte celebrates in the only way he knows as Michy Batshuayi puts them 1-0 up against West Brom.
Moments away from glory. https://t.co/MAQcv2mBGj
5/12/2017, 8:45:34 PM
Friday’s result end Tottenham’s glancing hope of staging a late run at the Premier League crown, although the north Londoners will still be motivated to prove their credentials against Manchester United on Sunday at White Hart Lane.
For Chelsea, meanwhile, the remaining fixtures against Watford and Sunderland become a formality, although Conte will demand a powerful end to his maiden Premier League campaign all the same.