Georgina Turner
Sunday May 9th, 2010

No team, in the Premier League era, has gone into the last day of the season top of the table and failed to win the title. That, and the fact that Chelsea had only to win a home game (it'd dropped just four points all season at Stamford Bridge), told you that it would end today as champions no matter what violence Manchester United did to Stoke's top-half ambitions at Old Trafford.

Chelsea and Manchester United have made up the league's top two for 31 of 37 game weeks. Entering the final game, a single point separated them, as had a single goal in each of their encounters this season (both Chelsea wins). Both had a Golden Boot candidate as their top scorers, Didier Drogba (Chelsea) and Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) tied on 26 league goals until Drogba's hat trick against Wigan earned him the trophy. This was tight.

Make no mistake, however: Chelsea is a worthy winner. It scored 103 league goals this season -- 17 clear of United, and tops the table almost any way you care to cut it. Versus top-half sides? Chelsea's record is best. Versus bottom-half sides? Chelsea. Attacking record, goal difference? Chelsea. Ironically, given Sir Alex Ferguson's recent ruefulness regarding United's defensive injuries this season, United's defensive record is actually better than Chelsea's by four goals (28 to 32). But then, conceding goals hasn't really mattered too much for a side that's scored three or more in 15 of 38 games this season.

The beauty for Chelsea is that its clinched a first title since 2006 with such sumptuous goal-scoring verve -- yet blighted by defensive frailties aplenty -- that its success won't attract the hateful stares that it had done under Jose Mourinho. Looking at least half beatable is a pre-requisite for any popular club; smashing in goals for fun always helps. There are four Chelsea players in the top-20 league scorers. As impressive as Drogba and Frank Lampard have been, no one individual can truly be said to have earned the Blues the title. In his first season, manager Carlo Ancelotti has found a system to get the best out of his squad, keeping old legs useful and releasing untold creativity -- particularly from winger Florent Malouda, finally expressing himself after two quiet seasons.

Much has been made of the lower points totals in this Premiership season (Chelsea's winning total of 86 matched the total for the runner-ups the previous season), but none of Chelsea's rivals have taken advantage. For the first time, Chelsea has done the double over every member of the traditional big four, even if Sir Alex Ferguson would still like to argue about the refereeing of both matches against United. Additionally, Chelsea's done a better job of putting the smaller teams in their place -- as evidenced by Sunday's 8-0 win over Wigan in a match that at least started with a few nerves.

Ferguson highlighted injuries as a factor in United's second-place finish when a record fourth successive title was on the table, and fingered the week in which Bayern Munich put them out of the Champions League either side of defeat to Chelsea as the killer. It's only fair, though, to credit Ancelotti's team for having been better able to afford such slips and trips along the way. Having stormed through preseason, Chelsea carried the momentum into the league, dropping only six points from the first 42 available to pull five points clear of United by December.

Before the final whistles blew around England today, thoughts had inevitably turned to next season and the prospects for two squads that also rank amongst the Premiership's most elderly. Ancelotti has already promised first-team berths to five of Chelsea's youngsters (Gael Kakuta, Fabio Borini, Patrick van Aanholt, Nemanja Matic and Jeffrey Bruma), with further prospects such as Jack Cork, Ryan Bertrand and Josh McEachran ready to shuffle up the line behind them. Ferguson appeared to do something similar when he listed an U-21 United team with Premiership experience in every position.

Though question marks hang over their readiness to take up the mantle, there's enough to suggest both managers be taken at their word. For United, thriftiness is essential given the club's mounting debts; for Chelsea, simply preferable, given how much owner Roman Abramovich has already paid out. Whether veterans Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville really have another campaign in them is uncertain, but Ferguson clearly sees next season as the one in which to blend youth and experience with serious intent. For Ancelotti, who'll lose Deco and most likely Joe Cole and Michael Ballack, there is a little more breathing space, but he too is on a deadline to pass the baton.

If the younger players are given a chance to fill out both squads, neither United nor Chelsea really needs to shop for more than one or two decent signings this summer.

Ferguson could have Owen Hargreaves back in midfield, which will feel as good as a new signing after months of injury setbacks, and needs to focus his sights on the additional striker that Wayne Rooney's been asking for. The names of David Villa and Karim Benzema have both come up in the press; United can probably afford the latter.

Ancelotti could do with a forward-thinking playmaker like Sergio Aguero to keep the creative spark alive between the midfield and the frontline, though the most urgent whispers link him with a move for Fernando Torres, perhaps to replace Nicolas Anelka. He will hope to have Michael Essien for most of next season having missed him for most of this, but if Ballack leaves there is certainly room to spend a little in the back of midfield.

The closing gap between the best and the rest this season has prompted speculation that neither United nor Chelsea will be certain of their place in the top four next season. That seems hopeful chitchat at best, but what of the chasing pack?

Arsenal held onto third spot in style, putting four past Fulham, but must feel it needs investment to fend off the challenge from below. A goalkeeper will no doubt come through the door, with Joe Hart in the frame. Elsewhere, Arsenal has flair and skill but lacks the combination of muscle and composure that Sol Campbell's spell has highlighted as being necessary. If Arsene Wenger spends as promised, bringing in experience, he will feel a slip down the table unlikely.

Spurs succumbed to Burnley's sheer willpower Sunday to lose 4-2 and ensure that they have a long season ahead of them, attempting to come through qualification for the Champions League. They need only one or two players though -- manager Harry Redknapp has hinted that one "special player" might be his only purchase, which suggests one $30m transaction might be on the cards. A world-class striker is a must.

Manchester City will spend because they can and because the cash they spent last time didn't get the owners the team or the place that they wanted. It is virtually unthinkable that City won't be pushing the leaders again next season, though a summer splurge won't bring an instant title -- Abramovich's initial spending spree came in 2003, two years before Mourinho took Chelsea to the title.

If City's cash attracts one or two enviable names early on in proceedings, however, expect to see one or two others spend more than they plan to -- keeping up with the Joneses is becoming increasingly important. Which is bad news for Liverpool, who could lose Torres and manager Rafael Benitez without having the funds to adequately replace them. Unless Mourinho is the man who can loosen Liverool owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks' purse strings, of course -- now that would make for a cracking 2010-11 Premiership.

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