Champions Chelsea became the first English side to register 30 top-flight victories in a 38-game season as they said farewell to captain John Terry with a comfortable Premier League win over bottom club Sunderland.
The Blues, who sealed their sixth top-flight title nine days ago, fell behind to an early Javier Manquillo strike but hit back quickly through Willian’s angled drive.
Eden Hazard lashed in his 17th goal of the season to give the home side the lead before his replacement, Pedro, capitalised on a poor backward header from Joleon Lescott to head in.
Another substitute, Michy Batshuayi, ensured the win was an emphatic one with two well-taken finishes late on to end his season with five goals in three games.
It was an emotional send off for defender Terry, who left the field in tears to a guard of honour from his team-mates in a pre-planned substitution in the 26th minute, matching his shirt number.
Jermain Defoe missed what may well have been his last game as a Sunderland player with a hamstring injury as the Black Cats’ 10-year stay in the Premier League came to an end with their 26th defeat of the season.
The stats behind Chelsea’s success this season are impressive: 30 wins in total, 15 victories out of 16 at home, 83 points from the last 96 available to them and 85 goals scored, making this their second-best ever Premier League season in front of goal.
Admittedly, the Blues hugely underachieved during last season’s title defence, but this has been an impressive and emphatic return to form for which Conte must take much of the plaudits.
The Italian has restructured the side, most notably through his adoption of a 3-4-3 formation in the aftermath of September’s 3-0 loss at Arsenal, and restored their swagger – something that was fully evident in Sunday’s final fixture.
Sunderland briefly went off script with Manquillo’s opener – coming from a Seb Larsson free-kick – but once Willian had restored parity there was only ever going to be one winner.
Playing within themselves, Chelsea were still way too good for the Black Cats, fashioning 28 shots to their opponent’s seven. The only surprise was that they did not take more of them prior to the floodgates opening late on thanks to Hazard, Pedro and Batshuayi.
The latter’s late-season contribution is further proof that all is well at Stamford Bridge right now. Restricted to cameo appearances for much of his first season in England, the Belgian striker has shown in the last three games he is capable of replacing Diego Costa, who continues to be linked with a summer move to China.
The Blues still have the chance to make Conte’s debut season a double-winning one when they take on Arsenal in the FA Cup final at Wembley next Saturday.
Stamford Bridge was adorned with banners dedicated to captain Terry, many of them hailing him as the Blues’ ‘captain, leader and legend’.
Since making his debut as a late substitute in a League Cup tie against Aston Villa in October 1998, the centre-back has become synonymous with the Blues, and in the Roman Abramovich era he has been their standout academy player amongst a raft of big-money recruits.
His 26th-minute substitution, which halted the game while he was given a guard of honour by his own team, was of his own design as a fitting way to say goodbye to the club that has been his home for 22 years.
His real parting moment, though, came after full-time when he and his natural successor as Blues captain, Gary Cahill, held aloft the Premier League trophy – the 15th major trophy the 36-year-old has won during his time at the club.
Addressing the crowd, Terry said: “Today is one of the most difficult days of my life.
“I’ve been very fortunate to work with some unbelievable players and managers throughout my career. I’m thankful to every single one of them.
“We all have to thank Roman Abramovich. I’d like to thank him and all the board. He’s the best owner in world football.”
Sunderland’s fate was sealed with four games still to go this season and this result ensured they ended their decade in the Premier League with a run of three straight defeats.
The Black Cats lost 11 of their last 14 matches, winning just once, and failed to score in 11 of them.
They have now finished bottom of the Premier League three times – an unwanted record matched only by Nottingham Forest.
Sunderland were always going to struggle to disrupt Chelsea’s title party – even more so when an injury ruled out top-scorer Defoe, who is unlikely to still be at the club when they begin next season’s Championship campaign.
They had only 29% possession at Stamford Bridge and managed just four touches of the ball in the Blues’ box.
David Moyes, who signed a four-year deal when he joined Sunderland last summer, insists he will remain as Black Cats boss next season, although there has been no word from the club yet on his future.
This was the Scot’s 499th Premier League game as a manager. If he does stay at the Stadium of Light it will take a major rebuilding job this summer if he is to reach 500 any time soon.
* Sunderland have lost 23 Premier League games against the Blues; against no other side have they lost more (also 23 defeats v Manchester United).
* Javier Manquillo’s goal, timed at 2:46, was Sunderland’s fastest in the Premier League since Wahbi Khazri v Manchester United on 13th February 2016 (2:28).
* Manquillo’s goal was his first in his 67th appearance in league football (Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Marseille and Sunderland).
* Chelsea have kept just one clean sheet in their last eight Premier League home games (3-0 v Middlesbrough).
* Michy Bathsuyai netted his five Premier League goals from just eight shots on target this season.
Sunderland begin preparing for the Championship while Chelsea go in pursuit of a double at Wembley next Saturday when they take on Arsenal in the FA Cup final.
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(Via: CitiFM Online Ghana)
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