Sam Wallace: Rivals downgraded to distant also-rans in merciless title defence

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The Independent Football

6 November, 2005: with victory at Old Trafford, Manchester United halt Chelsea's unbeaten run in the Premiership that stretches for 40 matches and more than a year. The nation gasps - is this day to be a historic point in the course of English football?

Only in the sense that on that day Sir Alex Ferguson said the phrase "absolute bollocks" live on national television for the first time in his disputatious career. As for his team, the victory scarcely impacted upon Chelsea's remorseless progress. The champions trampled just about every club in their path and then, in a final act of closure, demolished United 3-0 on Saturday to claim the title.

"We won the first game and after that we have been top of the League from the first day," Mourinho said recently, "always top, always top, always top". When they hit their "blip" it consisted of two freakish away defeats by Middlesbrough and Fulham and a draw away to Birmingham. The bizarre moments in Chelsea's season - the teams Mourinho picked away to Barcelona in the Champions' League and against Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final - have come in the cup competitions. Their Premiership season has been a serene procession to the title.

How have they done it? Consider Mourinho's analysis on Saturday of Joe Cole, a player who has long represented the maverick spirit of tactical rebellion in the Chelsea side but has made a case this season as one of the team's best players. "My emotional relationship with him is just because he has to play from the first day to the last day for Jose Mourinho and Chelsea," Mourinho said. "He has to play thinking about me and thinking about Chelsea, nothing else."

That dogma has served Mourinho's side so well. It was 588 minutes of play before they conceded this season and by the time Luke Moore scored in Aston Villa's 2-1 defeat,The Sun had put up a bounty for the first goal against Chelsea, who were already six points clear.

Chelsea were the first team to win seven successive Premiership matches from the start of the season, a record they took to nine before Everton claimed a point at Goodison on 23 October. Within that run there were two symbolic victories: the 1-0 defeat of Arsenal at home on 21 August and the 4-1 victory over Liverpool at Anfield on 2 October.

Chelsea smothered much of the resistance to their supremacy before Christmas. Beating Liverpool was a savage act of vengeance for the Champions' League semi-final defeat of last season. The banner in the Kop proclaiming Rafael Benitez as the genuine "Special One" had gone by full-time.

After defeat by United, Chelsea dispatched Newcastle, Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and Wigan without conceding a goal. Then on 18 December, came the 2-0 win over Arsenal at Highbury, a victory Mourinho declared as the season's second defining moment. They stretched their run of victories that followed defeat by United to 10 and when Chelsea beat West Ham on 2 January they were 14 points clear at the top of the Premiership.

There remains unease at the club over the relationship between Mourinho and the club's main scout, Frank Arnesen, and there is no doubt that the eruptions of temper from the Chelsea manager have made him difficult to work with of late. Against Barcelona in the second leg, his decision to play Arjen Robben as a second striker failed miserably, but Chelsea's progress in the Premiership remained insulated from acrimony.

Draws against Charlton and Aston Villa late January and early February were unusual but they were rectified by victory over Liverpool. Finding a pattern of decline in Chelsea's season is a fruitless task. That strange defeat by Middlesbrough on 11 February was followed by three wins. Defeat by Fulham on 19 March, and its aftermath, caused disillusionment among some players. But neither result caused a rot to set in.

The gap to United was seven points after the draw with Birmingham on 1 April. Mourinho warned United they faced "morrer na praia" - "dying on the beach". Try to chase Chelsea, he said and they risked collapsing with the effort. He was right. Chelsea beat West Ham, Bolton and Everton before United arrived at Stamford Bridge on Saturday apparently exhausted by the pursuit. Against Chelsea their slim hopes expired.

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