Chelsea celebrated their Premier League title triumph with a hard-earned victory over Watford in an ill-tempered but thrilling encounter at Stamford Bridge.
Manager Antonio Conte and his Chelsea players were able to take the acclaim on a lap of honour after the final whistle – but they were made to work for the win by a fired-up and physical Watford.
John Terry, who will leave at the end of the season after more than two decades at the club, celebrated his first league start since September by scoring Chelsea’s 100th goal in all competitions this term. It came after 22 minutes before he then gifted Watford’s Etienne Capoue an instant equaliser with a poor header.
Cesar Azpilicueta restored Chelsea’s lead with a crisp finish before half-time and the contest looked over when Michy Batshuayi, who scored the title-winning goal at West Bromwich Albion on Friday, added a third just after the break.
Watford, however, showed commendable fight. Daryl Janmaat’s fine solo effort put the visitors within reach before substitute Stefano Okaka, who was given his Italy debut by Chelsea boss Conte, took advantage of defensive uncertainty to slam in an equaliser.
Chelsea, as so often this season, found a way to win as substitute Cesc Fabregas struck from the edge of the area with three minutes left – while Watford’s misery was compounded when Sebastian Prodl was sent off for a second yellow card in stoppage time.
Conte celebrates title and plans for Wembley
Conte can do no wrong and he was being cheered at Stamford Bridge within seconds of appearing in his technical area after winning the Premier League at the first time of asking.
This was a night for Chelsea to bask in the glory of their success and hard work this season, and after a slow start, the crowd warmed to the occasion.
For Conte, it was also the opportunity to give some of his shadow squad game time, with the likes of Thibaut Courtois and Nemanja Matic given the night off and Diego Costa, Fabregas, Pedro, Gary Cahill and Marcos Alonso on the bench.
It was not simply a matter of giving Terry a game and showcasing younger talent such as Nathan Ake and Nathaniel Chalobah – this was a selection with a glance towards the forthcoming FA Cup final against Arsenal at Wembley.
Chelsea’s lack of familiarity showed in an uncharacteristically shoddy defensive performance while the lack of spark in some of the display was perhaps the result of mental and physical energy expended in getting the title win over the line.
The perfectionist Conte will be unhappy with parts of this performance, but he will also see the bigger picture.
Mixed fortunes for Terry
Terry is on the victory lap of his Chelsea career, with only Sunday’s final home game against Sunderland remaining before the curtain comes down.
Chelsea’s title win enabled Conte to give Terry his first league start since the 2-2 draw at Swansea City on 11 September last year, and first start in any competition since the FA Cup fifth-round win at Wolverhampton Wanderers on 18 February.
It was a night of mixed fortunes for the 36-year-old, whose goal meant he had scored in his 17th successive Premier League season.
Terry scrambled home that landmark goal but then made that uncharacteristic error to allow Capoue in for the equaliser.
Chelsea’s defence was not at its best but Terry was leading from the front as usual, even diving into an injury-time melee when players from both sides squared up to each other.
Terry is not going quietly from Chelsea – but that will come as no surprise.
Azpilicueta the unsung hero
It was fitting that Azpilicueta got himself on the scoresheet with a drilled low finish to put Chelsea 2-1 up – a rightful reward for a player whose outstanding consistency makes him a key component of this title-winning team.
Azpilicueta has been almost faultless as a vital part of the three-man defence that transformed Chelsea’s season, and while he may be underrated and unsung outside Stamford Bridge, there is no underestimating the importance Conte, his team-mates and fans put on the 27-year-old Spain defender.
Man of the match – Willian
‘The target is 30 wins’ – what the managers said
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte told BBC Sport: “It’s a big night because we won the title. I made a decision to make nine changes and give the chance to start a lot of young players. I must be pleased because the answer was very good.
“We conceded three goals but we scored four and created many chances. The most important thing was we won. Now we have target to win 30 games [which would be a Premier League record in a season].
“The most important thing is to win the league. Then if we have the possibility to improve these records, we must try. We can reach this target. The players and I want to reach this target.”
Watford manager Walter Mazzarri told BBC Sport: “I am very proud of my team. We had several players out injured.
“We played very well. Of course we were safe with six games left. I’m looking at the players I’ve got and who needs to be here next season.
“Congratulations to Antonio Conte because he’s a great manager. They have great players. They deserve the title.”
Chelsea get to celebrate all over again when they host relegated Sunderland on Sunday (15:00 BST), while Watford welcome Manchester City at the same time on the final day of the league season. The Blues still have the FA Cup final against Arsenal to come on 27 May.
1,000 goals under Abramovich – match stats
- Chelsea have equalled the record from most wins in a single Premier League season [29, also achieved by the Blues in 04-05 and 05-06]
- Watford scored with all three of their shots on target
- Antonio Conte made nine changes to the starting 11 for this game, the most ever by a Chelsea manager in the Premier League
- Jose Holebas has picked up a league-high 14 yellow cards in the Premier League this season; no player has ever picked up more in a single campaign [also 14 for Lee Cattermole in 14-15, Cheick Tiote in 10-11, Robbie Savage in 01-02 and Mark Hughes in 98-99)
- John Terry has now netted in each of his past 17 top-flight campaigns
- Terry’s goal was Chelsea’s 1,000th in the Premier League since Roman Abramovich took over [in the summer of 2003]
- It was also the Blues’ 100th goal in all competitions this season