Antonio Conte’s Premier League win proves he is the king of King’s Road… but can he do it all over again next season?


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NOW that he’s downed his celebratory champagne, it is time to ask whether Antonio Conte is ready to sip from the poisoned chalice.

Because attempting to retain the Premier League title has become just such a challenge.

PA:Press Association

Antonio Conte deserves all the plaudits for his debut Premier League success

Unlike in any other major European league, the English crown has become almost impossible to cling on to — it is now NINE years since any club has done so.

Chelsea win the Premier League – read the match report of their 1-0 win over West Brom

And since Sir Alex Ferguson’s three in a row from 2007 to 2009, most of the managers who have conquered the world’s richest league have been binned with indecent haste.

Claudio Ranieri was gone within nine months of masterminding Leicester’s miracle, Jose Mourinho was axed after seven months by Chelsea, Roberto Mancini and Carlo Ancelotti both went within a year of their successes.

So Manuel Pellegrini did remarkably well to last a season and a half before Manchester City gave him notice.

So, hey, congratulations Antonio, old chum. Enjoy it while you can because it ain’t going to get any easier from here on in…

Chelsea celebrate at full time after beating West Brom and winning the Premier League

Conte is wanted by Inter Milan and has hinted he’s after a pay rise from Roman Abramovich because, while he may not be struggling on a £6million salary, it is less than half of that earned by Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.

But however far the Premier League’s standards might have slipped in recent years, winning the great marathon is becoming increasingly gruelling and winning it back-to-back seems to be becoming nigh-on impossible.

Conte’s Chelsea, like Ranieri’s Leicester before them, have won the league without the mental distraction and physical drain of Champions League football.

The task now for Conte is to challenge on both fronts — and Chelsea are going to need to bolster their first-team squad to do so. Although, perhaps one or two of the club’s army of 38 loan players might be ready to step up.

Two years ago, Chelsea ignored Mourinho’s advice and failed to build from a position of strength — the trigger for last season’s spectacular meltdown and the ‘palpable discord’ which got the Portuguese axed.

Chelsea are likely to have to replace Diego Costa, with old boy Romelu Lukaku looking a good fit, but they should hang on to their buccaneer Eden Hazard, however much Real Madrid may covet the Belgian.

Michy Batshuayi scores at West Brom to win the League for Chelsea

Other than that, Conte is likely to want an upgrade on his wing-backs, Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso, even though both have been revelatory this season.

But it must all start with securing the future of Conte himself. This title has been a triumph of the Italian’s tactical know-how.

Ever since he re-shaped the team into a 3-4-3 it has been plain sailing for the Blues and pretty much every other manager has followed his trend.

Conte, renowned as a combustible figure back home in Italy, has been remarkably calm this season — even when things were not going smoothly in the opening weeks.

But now with a title victory behind him, he will feel he has the clout to demand more from Abramovich and the Chelsea hierarchy.

Conte’s men had given themselves three opportunities to clinch the title and that they won it at the first time of asking, in the most difficult of those three assignments, said much about their efficiency.

Chelsea players and boss Antonio Conte celebrate winning the Premier League

Rex Features

Chelsea players and boss Antonio Conte celebrate winning the Premier League

Albion had seemed to have been on their holidays for much of the previous two months since they effectively reached safety back in early March.

But from the moment Salomon Rondon’s header forced Thibaut Courtois to tip over the bar inside 30 seconds, it was clear that Tony Pulis’ band of beefcakes were not going to wave Chelsea through for a ceremonial coronation.

It is tests such as West Brom away which make this title so tough to win.

Pulis has constructed a land of the giants here at The Hawthorns — almost to a man they are six foot plus, built like brick monuments and well steeped with know-how.

The Baggies included two former United title-winners in Darren Fletcher and Jonny Evans and this old-school stadium with its bear-pit atmosphere is never an easy place to navigate.

Twice, Chelsea’s defence was split apart midway through the second half yet neither Rondon nor Nacer Chadli could capitalise.

Then, Chelsea found a way —– through, of all people, their little-used £33million reserve striker Michy Batshuayi, who stabbed home the title-clincher eight minutes from time.

Michy Batshuayi was the unlikely hero for Chelsea

Getty Images

Michy Batshuayi was the unlikely hero for Chelsea

Conte seemed to take a whack in the face during the wild celebrations which followed, although the bubbly will have numbed any pain.

Winning this great endurance test is worthy of a true celebration and Chelsea partied long and hard after the final whistle.

Conte was trampolined up in the air by his delirious players, as was the departing John Terry, shinpads and all, just like the Champions League final in Munich.

But winning this thing twice in a row really would be quite something.

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