Dramatic goal by substitute captures Premier League title for Chelsea

In his exuberance as the title celebrations raged on, Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas blurted out how he and his teammates felt about their triumphant season in a postgame TV interview: “Football is f---ing unbelievable.”

The direct reference was to substitute and goalscorer Michy Batshuayi, tossed into a 0-0 game along with Willian by manager Antonio Conte, who rather than holding on for a point and targeting a home match Monday with Watford as the title-clincher instead elected to go for it.

Six minutes into his 19th appearance off the bench this season, Batshuayi steered home a low cross from Cesar Azpilicueta for just his second Premier League goal, and also one of the most historic in the team’s long history. In his first season in charge of Chelsea and first run with a Premier League club, Conte had cleared away the rubble of a 10th-place finish a year ago to stand at the summit, and described the triumph as “a dream come true.”

“It is a great achievement because this is the hardest championship to win in the world, and I have to say thanks to the players for their commitment, their attitude and their passion, and their will to do something great this season,” said Conte. “They fought for this, so this win is for the players. Every game I feel like I have played with them. I show my passion and my will, my desire to stay with my players in every moment of the game. This is me, this is how I am. In the present, in the past, I stay with my players in positive and negative situations. So we won this title together.”

He won three Serie A titles with Juventus prior to managing Italy, which reached the semifinals of the European Championships last summer. He left that post to take over for Chelsea, which had finished the season under Guus Hiddink following the dismissal of Jose Mourinho.

Switching to a 3-4-3 formation after a 3-0 loss to Arsenal in September triggered Chelsea’s powerful performance, but the ability of Conte to move players in and out of the lineup and up and down in his pecking order, and still extracting consistently solid performances, played an immense role. Willian, one of the few bright spots in last season’s disaster, lost his starting spot, and so far down the depth chart was Fabregas in December there were persistent rumors of a transfer during the January window.

But both players contributed significantly as Chelsea pulled to the lead by winning 13 straight games in all competitions. Hounded by Tottenham in March and April, Chelsea stayed far enough ahead to set up a clinching game by beating Middlesbrough Monday. But it had to win Friday at The Hawthorns; a tie would not be enough.

Unable to break down West Brom’s resilience with its attacking stars -- Diego Costa, Pedro, Eden Hazard -- on the field, Chelsea got its title-clinching goal from a player who cost $43 million last year in a transfer from Marseille and has failed to start a single league game.

Before he dropped his f-bomb, Fabregas paid tribute to the night’s unlikely hero. “That’s the beauty of football,” he said. “A player who didn’t play a lot scores the winning goal for the championship.”

At some point during the celebrations Conte took a shot to the face and was sporting a fat lip in the latter stages. He was drenched in ice water by Asmir Begovic and Carlo Cudicini in the locker room. Costa sprayed him with champagne.

“It has not always been the easiest of years, with my family back in Italy, but it has been a great season,” he said. “For me, and also for my players given last season was a bad season for the club, the players and the fans. Only one year later, to celebrate this win in a league where there are, for me, big, big teams with great players, great managers … it’s great, fantastic. So it’s important to celebrate now.”

Chelsea will walk out at Stamford Bridge Monday to a traditional line of honor -- two rows of Watford players applauding and shaking hands -- and finishes the season May 21 against Sunderland, when it will receive the Premier League trophy.

“He’s a fantastic manager,” said Hazard. “He worked us a lot in training, and that was the key this season. So credit to him. When we lost to Liverpool and Arsenal and then went on an unbelievable run, winning [13] games in a row … that’s when we realized we could win the title.”

The title had seemed very distant after the humiliation at the Emirates yet would have been a certainty long before Friday if not for the dogged pursuit of Spurs, which stayed within range by reeling off nine consecutive league victories of their own, including the game that ended Chelsea’s run.

“You have to cherish these moments,” said captain, Gary Cahill, who will lift the trophy with John Terry on the season’s final day. “You work hard all season to be where we are. There is no better feeling than this. People wrote us off as a team and individually but, consistently, we have been the best in the league. We are champions. It’s an amazing achievement from everybody. A special moment. Now I can’t wait to get my hands on the trophy.”

Chelsea then meets bitter rival Arsenal May 27 in the FA Cup final; Conte and his players can capture only the club's second FA Cup and Premier League double.

“We have also another target to try to reach -- we worked very hard to reach the final of the FA Cup, and then it’s important to prepare in the right way for next season. And now we can win the FA Cup,” said Conte.
1 comment about "Dramatic goal by substitute captures Premier League title for Chelsea".
  1. don Lamb, May 14, 2017 at 8:51 a.m.

    Disappointing conclusion to the PL season. Going into the final two weeks of the season, only one spot that matters is up for grabs. Unless United can beat Tottenham today, the only teams that matter are Liverpool and Arsenal. Everyone else, might as well head to the beach or wherever they go in Europe.

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