Football: Chelsea beat Crystal Palace 1-0, secure 4th English Premier League title

Eden Hazard celebrates after scoring the first goal for Chelsea. The English football club bagged a fourth English Premier League title with three more games to go on Sunday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Eden Hazard celebrates after scoring the first goal for Chelsea. The English football club bagged a fourth English Premier League title with three more games to go on Sunday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

LONDON (AFP)  - Eden Hazard scored the only goal as Chelsea beat Crystal Palace 1-0 at a festive, sun-soaked Stamford Bridge on Sunday to claim their first Premier League title since 2010. The Belgian headed in after Julian Speroni had parried his self-won penalty late in the first half to register his 19th goal of the season and carry Jose Mourinho’s side over the line with three games to spare. 

Chelsea moved 16 points clear of outgoing champions Manchester City, who visit Tottenham Hotspur later on Sunday, and Arsenal, who travel to Hull City on Monday, meaning they can no longer be caught.

“Every title is a consequence of hard work and a reason to be happy and proud,” said Mourinho, who has now won three league titles with
Chelsea after previous successes in 2005 and 2006 during his first stint at the club. “I can’t evaluate and say which one was more important. This was my last title and I try to get another one.

“The group starts with the League Cup and the Premier League, but we know in future it’s very difficult and other teams will come even stronger. “England’s not the best country to be a force and dominate football.”

The title success, the club’s fifth in total, follows Chelsea’s triumph over Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup final and sets the seal on a campaign they have dominated from start to finish.

The title-clinching win was characteristic of Chelsea’s gritty recent displays and it gave Mourinho the eighth league crown of his managerial career.

“It’s been five years since we’ve won it,” captain John Terry, who has led Chelsea to four of their five league titles, told Sky Sports during a post-match interview on a pitch strewn with blue and white ticker-tape. “The first one (in 2005) was special and when you go four or five years without it, it hurts. So I’ll really enjoy it today.”

Hazard, recently voted Player of the Year by the Professional Footballers’ Association, said: “We deserve to be champions, and everyone at
Chelsea is happy today. “I know the team need me and a player like me. I am here to score, and this season all the players did well.” 

Mourinho sent his side out with a succinct message in the match-day programme – “Three more points to be champions. Let’s do it together.” – but it took the hosts a while to get going. With Didier Drogba dropping deep up front, 

Chelsea struggled to get in behind the visitors, who posed a threat on the break through the quicksilver dribbling of left-winger Wilfried Zaha.

When Chelsea did began to create chances, they found Palace goalkeeper Speroni in jittery form. The Argentine was obliged to save at his near post from Nemanja Matic after failing to claim a Cesc Fabregas free-kick, while another set-piece saw him unconvincingly fumble away a shot from Drogba.

It required a trademark, full-bodied block from Terry, meanwhile, to prevent Jason Puncheon giving Palace the lead, the ball flicking away off the
Chelsea captain’s arm. But on the cusp of half-time, Hazard, as he has done so often this season, supplied the breakthrough.

Despite minimal contact, James McArthur was adjudged to have impeded the Belgium forward in the penalty area as he burst onto Willian’s back-heel. Hazard took the penalty himself and although Speroni blocked his initial shot – the first time he has failed to score from the spot in 10 attempts in the Premier League – he followed in to head home.

Chelsea’s fans spent part of the second half addressing odes to their club’s former stars, but Thibaut Courtois had to save decisively from Zaha before the champagne could be uncorked. Palace have now lost three games in succession, but with survival long since secure, even their fans left the Bridge with smiles on their faces.

“I feel a little bit hard done by,” said Palace manager Alan Pardew on the penalty incident. “But it’s not about us today. We gave a great account of ourselves.”