Chelsea celebrated their Premier League title triumph with a hard-earned victory over Watford in an ill-tempered but thrilling encounter at Stamford Bridge.
Manager Antonio Conte and his Chelsea players were able to take the acclaim on a lap of honour after the final whistle – but they were made to work for the win by a fired-up and physical Watford.
John Terry, who will leave at the end of the season after more than two decades at the club, celebrated his first league start since September by scoring Chelsea’s 100th goal in all competitions this term. It came after 22 minutes before he then gifted Watford’s Etienne Capoue an instant equaliser with a poor header.
Cesar Azpilicueta restored Chelsea’s lead with a crisp finish before half-time and the contest looked over when Michy Batshuayi, who scored the title-winning goal at West Bromwich Albion on Friday, added a third just after the break.
Watford, however, showed commendable fight. Daryl Janmaat’s fine solo effort put the visitors within reach before substitute Stefano Okaka, who was given his Italy debut by Chelsea boss Conte, took advantage of defensive uncertainty to slam in an equaliser.
Chelsea, as so often this season, found a way to win as substitute Cesc Fabregas struck from the edge of the area with three minutes left – while Watford’s misery was compounded when Sebastian Prodl was sent off for a second yellow card in stoppage time.
Conte can do no wrong and he was being cheered at Stamford Bridge within seconds of appearing in his technical area after winning the Premier League at the first time of asking.
This was a night for Chelsea to bask in the glory of their success and hard work this season, and after a slow start, the crowd warmed to the occasion.
For Conte, it was also the opportunity to give some of his shadow squad game time, with the likes of Thibaut Courtois and Nemanja Matic given the night off and Diego Costa, Fabregas, Pedro, Gary Cahill and Marcos Alonso on the bench.
It was not simply a matter of giving Terry a game and showcasing younger talent such as Nathan Ake and Nathaniel Chalobah – this was a selection with a glance towards the forthcoming FA Cup final against Arsenal at Wembley.
Chelsea’s lack of familiarity showed in an uncharacteristically shoddy defensive performance while the lack of spark in some of the display was perhaps the result of mental and physical energy expended in getting the title win over the line.
The perfectionist Conte will be unhappy with parts of this performance, but he will also see the bigger picture.
Terry is on the victory lap of his Chelsea career, with only Sunday’s final home game against Sunderland remaining before the curtain comes down.
Chelsea’s title win enabled Conte to give Terry his first league start since the 2-2 draw at Swansea City on 11 September last year, and first start in any competition since the FA Cup fifth-round win at Wolverhampton Wanderers on 18 February.
It was a night of mixed fortunes for the 36-year-old, whose goal meant he had scored in his 17th successive Premier League season.
Terry scrambled home that landmark goal but then made that uncharacteristic error to allow Capoue in for the equaliser.
Chelsea’s defence was not at its best but Terry was leading from the front as usual, even diving into an injury-time melee when players from both sides squared up to each other.
Terry is not going quietly from Chelsea – but that will come as no surprise.