Chelsea all but locks up Premier League title with 2-1 win over Manchester City

If anybody had any notions of the Premier League title race reopening, some fanciful ideation of this thing somehow not being over yet, that was put to bed by Chelsea’s 2-1 home win against Manchester City on Wednesday.

The victory by the uninterrupted league leaders going back to Nov. 5 restored Chelsea’s seven-point lead at the top with eight games to go. It might well have been 10, had Tottenham Hotspur not staged a late comeback at Swansea City. Still, the win over Pep Guardiola’s City affirmed that Sunday’s 1-0 Blues loss at Crystal Palace was the blip it always looked to be.

Take a hard look at the remaining games for Antonio Conte’s men. Bournemouth away. Manchester United away. Southampton at home. Everton away. Middlesbrough at home. West Bromwich Albion away. Sunderland at home. A makeup home game with Watford at some point.

Hazard and the Blues maintain a seven-point Premier League lead over Spurs. (Reuters)
Hazard and the Blues maintain a seven-point Premier League lead over Spurs. (Reuters)

There are no apparent banana peels there for Chelsea to slip up on. Even if the game at Old Trafford is lost, things remain fairly comfortable for the West Londoners. And Man United’s stadium is hardly the bastion it used to be. Besides, Chelsea can afford to lose twice.

Against a gamely City, two goals by the transcendent Eden Hazard secured the points in spite of a bad Thibaut Courtois error that led to Sergio Aguero’s goal for City. It was an entertaining game, yet also one that was, for the most part, strangely comfortable for Chelsea, chasing down a second league title in three years.

In the 10th minute, Hazard opened the scoring on a lovely play up the right side. Cesar Azpilicueta overlapped on the right, combined with Pedro and cut back for Hazard. The Belgian’s shot took a slight nick off the returned City captain Vincent Kompany and beat goalkeeper Willy Caballero. It was all a bit unfortunate for the visitors, but no less deserved for Chelsea.

In the 26th came Courtois’ horrid clearance sailed right into the chest of David Silva. He advanced and smacked a shot right at the Belgian goalkeeper. The rebound fell kindly for the unmarked Aguero, who equalized into an open goal.

But not eight minutes later, Cesc Fabregas fed Pedro in the box. He cut away from Fernandinho and was brought down by the Brazilian makeshift right back. Referee Mike Dean had no choice other than to point to the spot.

Caballero saved Hazard’s meek penalty kick, but the forward pounced on his own rebound and slid it underneath the sprawling goalie to convert on the second attempt.

City searched feverishly for an equalizer, but, for the longest time, it never got closer than when Kevin De Bruyne’s free kick was headed back across by Kompany and dinked off the top of the bar just after halftime.

Chelsea did what it has done so well all season: absorb pressure without actually giving away significant chances. It didn’t itself conjure much on the counter either, but then it didn’t need the goal.

Only in injury time did City finally threaten in earnest. Nolito picked out Aguero deep in the box and dropped a cross on his right boot that the striker redirected onto goal. But Courtois made amends and blocked it well. On the ensuing corner, John Stones had a free volley but completely shanked his effort, which arced harmlessly and pointlessly over the bar. It was perhaps on that single play that Chelsea’s title was finally secured.

Because Manchester City’s resistance was now broken. And the rest of the Premier League’s resistance was broken.

And there doesn’t seem to be anybody left to stop Chelsea from lifting the sixth league title in its history.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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