x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Chelsea's boring brand replaced by an all out attack

Under Carlo Ancelotti's charge Chelsea have bludgeoned all before them, scoring in excess of 100 goals to win a third Premier League crown. Richard Jolly analyses their transformation.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, won the Premier League title in his first season in charge.
Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, won the Premier League title in his first season in charge.

The league table is famously truthful, especially after 38 games. On those grounds alone, Chelsea can be called deserving champions of England. But there are plenty of other reasons to proclaim them worthy winners. They are the consequence of a blend of substance, style and statistics. Sunday's victory against Wigan contained all three: the professionalism to seal the win, and the title, within 32 minutes, when they took a two-goal lead and reduced their opponents to 10 men, followed by the opportunity to indulge their new-found greed for goals.

It highlights the difference Carlo Ancelotti has made, even if his side's prolific return seems to have taken the Italian aback. Having managed seven goals in a game three times already this season, Chelsea went one better against Wigan, obliterating the previous highest Premier League tally in a season and becoming the first top-flight side for 47 years to record a century. Spurious scoring gave them a remarkable goal difference (+71). The relish for plunder is relatively recent, but Ancelotti has given what was an instinctively defensive side an attacking impetus. Chelsea used to be branded boring: that is no longer possible. Besides satisfying Roman Abramovich, whose quest for entertainment conflicted with Jose Mourinho's love of control and clean sheets, such boldness was based on sound footballing logic.

While Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic, the full-backs, have enjoyed their finest season at Stamford Bridge, the defensive axis is less reliable. Ricardo Carvalho's fragile frame lets him down, while Petr Cech and John Terry are no longer paragons of consistency. Minus Michael Essien for much of the campaign, the back four are shielded far less rigorously. Ancelotti's recognition that Chelsea's strengths lay in the final third is the key to their reinvention. Their three premier performers are all progressive players.

It damns Frank Lampard with faint praise to call him a master of efficiency, but the 27-goal midfielder is a methodical maestro. Capable of the remarkable - remember his deft, cushioned volley against Stoke? - he normally settles simply for putting the ball in the back of the net, time and again. Florent Malouda, meanwhile, has progressed to such an extent that it feels each element of his game appears better: quicker and stronger, more skilful and more potent, the Frenchman has gone from fringe player to first choice.

The trio is completed by the Premier League's alpha male. Didier Drogba won the Golden Boot in idiosyncratic fashion, spending some of the first half sulking after Lampard was permitted to take a penalty, and then overwhelming Wigan with a swift hat-trick. The Ivorian is a weapon of mass destruction with a tendency to harm his own side. Under Ancelotti's guidance, damage has largely been done to opponents, especially to their immediate challengers. Chelsea completed a clean sweep against Liverpool, their supposed title rivals, and Arsenal and Manchester United, who presented rather stiffer tests. The side that won the season's defining contests, theirs is an unanswerable case to the Premier League crown.

In the final reckoning, elimination from Europe by Mourinho's Inter Milan side, may have helped. In the analysis of the Premier League's standing, the exit of each of its four participants from the Champions League at an earlier stage than last season suggests a division on the wane. Chelsea were the only one of the dominant quartet not to sell a key player last summer; that, too, explains why they have topped the division. Cristiano Ronaldo's exit from Old Trafford for Real Madrid left an opportunity, but it still required taking. Chelsea, with unexpected elan, seized it. They are rightful winners.

Burnley bade a fond farewell to the Premier League. Many of their supporters showed their sporting side by applauding Luka Modric's goal for Tottenham before the relegated Clarets took their leave in some style, coming from two goals behind to win 4-2. At times this season, attempts to out-play teams with superior players and greater resources seemed wilfully naive; on others, they were vindicated gloriously. This was one such occasion.

Finishing ninth in their first season back in the top flight, Birmingham long since sealed the unofficial award for overachievement. Runners up, however, must be Blackburn, for whom 10th place represents genuine success after making a sizeable profit in the past two summers. Ending with wins over Arsenal and Aston Villa is a fine way to finish, too.

Final-day results can have a habit of illustrating a club's needs in the summer transfer market. For Liverpool, a 0-0 draw at Hull hinted at the need for another goalscorer, especially when Fernando Torres is absent. For Manchester United, several misses from Dimitar Berbatov against Stoke suggested similar. For Wigan, it indicated a better central defender and reserve goalkeeper, given Chris Kirkland's many injuries, might be in order. For West Ham, the sight of Luis Boa Morte scoring against Manchester City on his first game of the season should have served as a reminder that they are paying him £50,000 (Dh271,500) a week. Offers to David Gold and David Sullivan at Upton Park would be gratefully accepted, but there are unlikely to be any. sports@thenational.ae