Chelsea worthy champions after memorable season

LONDON - When Chelsea and Manchester United drew 2-2 in the Community Shield and needed penalties to separate them it set the tone for one of the closest and most unpredictable title races for years.

Nine months later Chelsea, who won that Wembley shootout, picked up secured the Premier League title for the first time since 2006 by a solitary point, clinching it in style with an 8-0 thrashing of Wigan Athletic.

For United, and particularly manager Sir Alex Ferguson, it was a huge disappointment as they had carried high hopes of becoming the first team since the Football League was formed in 1888 to win the top flight four years in a row.

Had they done so it would have been their 19th championship, moving them ahead of Liverpool.

Chelsea can make Carlo Ancelotti's first season in charge even more of a celebration if they beat Portsmouth in the FA Cup final on Saturday to become the seventh team to do the Double.

Led by Didier Drogba, whose final day hat-trick took his season's tally to 36 in all competitions, and with midfielder Frank Lampard weighing in with a remarkable 27, Chelsea proved worthy champions despite a few problems in mid-season.

Arsenal ended up hanging on for third place ahead of north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur who shook-up the top four, but until last month they were right in the mix for the title.

Chelsea made a great start when they won their first six games, United suffering a shock early defeat at promoted Burnley.

The Londoners wavered as they went down at Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa, allowing United to get a taste of the top in October.

DESPERATE LIVERPOOL

Liverpool, 2009 runners-up and desperate to regain the title after a 20-year wait, were already out of the running.

Defeats by Tottenham, Villa, Chelsea, Sunderland - thanks to the infamous 'beach ball goal' - and Fulham left Liverpool way off the pace.

Arsenal too looked out of the running when they were bullied off their own pitch by a rampant Chelsea in a 3-0 defeat at the end of November that left them 11 points behind the Stamford Bridge club.

The first big-two showdown went Chelsea's way with a 1-0 home win over United and they entered 2010 with a two-point lead.

But if the league appeared to be a two-horse race then somebody forgot to tell Arsenal.

They hit back superbly from their Chelsea drubbing and put together a run that took them top on goal difference on Jan. 20.

It was an impressive display of the "mental strength" that manager Arsene Wenger talks of so often but it proved a false dawn ahead of a draw with Villa and defeats by United and Chelsea.

United lost to Villa and Fulham in December when injuries decimated their defence but they recovered well and hit the top after Chelsea had a February to forget.

Chelsea's month started with a 1-1 draw at Hull City and a first defeat by Everton for 10 years as John Terry, front page news for his reported affair with the ex-girlfriend of former team mate Wayne Bridge, was given a torrid time by two-goal Louis Saha.

Champions League defeat at Inter Milan was followed by a startling 4-2 home reverse at the hands of Manchester City.

That was Chelsea's first home defeat for 15 months and meant the title race again turned into a three-way crush.

EUROPEAN EXIT

Chelsea's European exit boosted to their domestic season as, after a poor performance in a 1-1 draw at Blackburn Rovers, the staff and players got together for a meeting to refocus their minds.

A 5-0 win at Portsmouth and 7-1 thrashing of Villa put them in just the right mood for the April 3 trip to Old Trafford.

United began that day a point ahead but ended it two behind after Joe Cole and Didier Drogba secured a deserved 2-1 win.

Arsenal were also still fighting and were only a point behind United in the first week of April.

It was all still close on paper but the momentum was with Chelsea. While they turned European exit to their advantage, United were left reeling by theirs.

As well as the disappointment of going down on away goals to Bayern Munich, United also lost Wayne Rooney to a twisted ankle.

The England striker had been on fire all season, scoring in excess of 30 goals, but he missed the subsequent draw with Blackburn and the goals dried up as he limped through the remaining weeks.

There was still time for more twists, though, as Chelsea were outplayed in a 2-1 loss at Spurs.

Tottenham also beat Arsenal to end their hopes but they could not complete the hat-trick when they lost 3-1 at United.

Then came Chelsea's trip to Anfield. It looked a tough penultimate fence but they cleared it with ease in a 2-0 win.

Defeat against Wigan could have let in United on the final day, but Chelsea produced a stunning display to take the title with 103 league goals, the first time a top-flight club had hit a century of goals since 1963.

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