OK, so it wasn’t quite as charming as Leicester’s fairy tale run to the English Premier League championship last season, but Chelsea’s return from No. 10 to the top of the table this year makes for a compelling storyline, too.
The Blues clinched the league title with two games to spare with a 1-0 victory at West Brom Friday night on a goal by unlikely hero Michy Batshuayi. Kante, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were the standouts most of the season, but on this night, it was Batshuayi who came to the rescue.
Chelsea, which won the EPL title in 2014-15, had seemingly gone completely off track early this season. After a 3-0 loss to Arsenal in late-September, new coach Antonio Conte, the former Italian national team manager, switched to a three-man back line. Everything changed with the new shape, and the offense exploded.
The Blues won their next 13 games — a Premier League record for consecutive victories within a season.
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By early November, Chelsea was back on top of the standings, and heading into the weekend led second-place Tottenham 87 points to 77. If the Blues beat Sunderland at home, they will become the sixth club to reach 90 points in a 38-game season. Their next goal is to also win the FA Cup title. They play Arsenal in the final May 27.
Chelsea captain Gary Cahill told reporters the players always believed they could get back to the top, despite finishing in tenth place last season, 31 points behind Leicester.
“We felt confident in the dressing room all season,” he said “We deserved it over the season. We worked very hard and have been the better team. It is fantastic to wrap it up with a couple of games to go, it is very difficult in this league.”
Drama at the bottom: Meanwhile, there is a heated battle to avoid relegation at the bottom of the table heading into the final week of the season. Swansea, Hull, and Crystal Palace are in the danger zone and desperate to stay alive.
Two will survive. One will join Sunderland (already out with a league-low 24 points) and Middlesbrough (almost certainly out with 28) in the lower-tier league next season. The 18th, 19th, and 20th-place teams move down.
Swansea took a giant step toward safety and remained in the coveted 17th place with a 2-0 road victory Saturday at Sunderland. The win gave Swansea 38 points, four clear of Hull City’s 34, with a home game against West Brom remaining next week.
Swansea has never finished lower than 12th; but this spring, fans will be delighted with anything above 18th place.
Swansea has fired two managers this season, including former U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley, and looked doomed in last place at the midway point. They went through a horrible stretch where they earned just one point in six games. But in recent weeks, they turned things around with a win over Stoke City, a tie against Manchester United, and an unexpected 1-0 victory over Everton last Saturday that left players and fans celebrating as if they had won EPL title.
The celebration continued on Saturday after the away win at Sunderland, with coach Paul Clement pounding his heart and Swansea players applauding their fans who made the trip (many of them at the players’ expense).
Determined to have some support in the stands for Saturday’s game, Swansea’s beloved 34-year-old captain Leon Britton came up with the idea of the players buying out the 3,000 allotted tickets for their club rather than having opposing players scoop them up. The players purchased the tickets and they were made available to Swansea fans.
“Overall, if you look right back to the start of the season — of course I wasn’t here – if you say Swansea are going to stay up and there’s going to be massive celebrations, people would say: ‘That’s not great, we don’t want to hear that,” Clement said. “But in the context of the situation — three managers in one year, bottom at the halfway point with only 12 points, massive goals conceded — I think in that context, absolutely yes, we can celebrate if we stay in the league.”
State Cup final four: South Florida will be well-represented at the Florida Youth Soccer Association State Cup final four May 20-21 in Auburndale. Sunrise Sting has three girls’ teams (U-14, U-17, U-18), Weston has two teams (U-13 boys and girls), and other clubs with a semifinalist are Pinecrest Premier (U-13 boys), Key Biscayne (U-15 boys), Kendall (U-16 boys), Davie United (U-17 boys), Miramar (U-18 boys) and Wellington (U-14 girls).
EPL: Chelsea (87), Tottenham (77), Liverpool (70), Manchester City (69), Arsenal (66).
La Liga: Barcelona and Real Madrid (84), Atletico Madrid (74), Sevilla (69), Villarreal (63).
Serie A: Juventus (85), Roma (78), Napoli (77), Lazio (70), Atalanta (65).
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (76), Leipzig (66), Dortmund (60), Hoffenheim (58), Freiburg (47).
Ligue 1: Monaco (86), PSG (83), Nice (77), Lyon (63), Marseille (58).
NASL: Miami FC (11), Jacksonville (10), San Francisco, NY (9), Carolina (8).
MLS: East — Toronto (22), Orlando (18), NYCFC, Columbus, NYRB (16). West — Dallas and KC (18), Portland (17), Houston (16).