Belfast Telegraph

Chelsea maestro Mourinho delivers the title

Chelsea 1-0 C Palace

By Sam Wallace

In the closing stages of Chelsea's final march to the title yesterday, Jose Mourinho turned to the seats behind his dugout and discreetly rolled his eyes at the effort of it all, at the sheer bloody-mindedness required to see one last home victory over the line.

No club wins a Premier League title easily, although some can make it seem that way. Not every team do it with the flair and excitement that we imagine the best teams from the past were capable of. But every team that climbs this summit deserves the title of champions, whether they win it on goal difference in injury-time or, like Mourinho's side, a long way clear of the pack.

The Chelsea of 2015, the Chelsea of Mourinho II, are no different. They can be unlovable at times, an unyielding force that creates for the opposition the effect of being in a room where the walls are slowly closing in, but there is no question that they have been the best this time. While other clubs have melted under the pressure, Mourinho's side have adapted, re-formed, gone again and won matches when the heat was on.

It was the same against Crystal Palace, when a questionable penalty - awarded to Eden Hazard, saved by Julian Speroni and then scored on the rebound by the Belgian - was the game's decisive moment. By the end Mourinho had eight defensive players on the pitch and was preoccupied with squeezing the last drops of resistance from Palace.

Later Mourinho listed the different obstacles his team had been obliged to overcome, the different strategies they had been forced to adopt - even over the course of just one afternoon against Palace.

As he rattled off the different challenges, you could see he was getting close to the essence of this particular Chelsea team. They are the masters when it comes to negating the opposition's strengths, counter-punching and then shutting up shop. They do what it takes to win football matches and it is a philosophy shaped by their manager.

The fourth title of the Roman Abramovich era is the third for Mourinho and puts him up there on the all-time list with Arsène Wenger, Bill Shankly and Stan Cullis. Deep down, his place in history means everything to him.

At half-time Mourinho brought on John Obi Mikel, then Kurt Zouma and Filipe Luis in the closing stages as Chelsea hung on to their lead.

His team have done it with three games to spare and could yet reach 92 points, just three short of the Premier League record that they set in Mourinho's first season in charge, 2004-05. The quality of this Chelsea team has not been in question, it is simply that since Mourinho adopted the defensive position of the last few months it has been less than thrilling.

His programme notes were 10 words long, "Three more points to be champions. Let's do it together," he wrote, but Chelsea made heavy weather of it in the first half. Before the game, Ramires was taken ill, serious enough that he went to hospital, and in his place came Juan Cuadrado.

Chelsea's lead came from a debatable penalty in the last minute of the half when Hazard squeezed between Adrian Mariappa and James McArthur and popped out the other side airborne, as if fired from a cannon. It looked as if Mariappa might have had the decisive touch but, once he felt it, Hazard launched.

These are difficult decisions to make when the best attacking player in the league is travelling so rapidly and Kevin Friend, the referee, looked as if he made the easiest in the circumstances.

You could make a case either way.

With the penalty, Hazard tried to deceive Speroni with his eyes but the old Argentine is too cute for that. He guessed right, dived left and saved the ball. The rebound bounced kindly for Hazard to head in, a much more difficult finish than it looked.

Otherwise, Palace had done well and might have had a penalty themselves when John Terry threw life and limb in front of a Jason Puncheon shot on 29 minutes. The gradual dawning on Palace was, as many teams have found against Chelsea, that conceding the first goal could prove decisive. Their belief drained from them and they struggled to get beyond a defence superbly led again by Terry.

He will get his hands on the Premier League trophy come the last home game against Sunderland, when the party can resume. One does not expect Mourinho to let up against Liverpool or West Bromwich Albion in the interim, and after 24 May it will be up to the rest to figure out a way of stopping them next season.

CHELSEA: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Fàbregas, Matic, Cuadrado (Mikel 45), Willian (Zouma 85), Hazard (Filipe Luis 92), Drogba.

Goal: Hazard 45

Subs not used: Cech, Aké, Remy, Loftus-Cheek.

CRYSTAL PALACE: Speroni, Mariappa (Kelly 60), Dann, Delaney, Ward, Puncheon (Sanogo 71), McArthur, Ledley, Zaha, Mutch (Murray 61), Bolasie.

Subs not used: Hangeland, Hennessey, Jedinak, Lee Chung-yong.

Man of match: Nemanja Matic (right).

Referee: Kevin Friend.

Attendance: 41,566

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