Chelsea compare favourably to Premier League's greatest champions

LONDON -- One year after mounting the most shockingly hapless title defence in living memory, Chelsea are Premier League champions again.

The revival under Antonio Conte has been so drastic that many remain torn over how to judge this team within the context of the very best in the Premier League era. Some have been more impressed by Mauricio Pochettino's vibrant young Tottenham side that finished second this season and third last season.

But now that the dust has settled and the Premier League table is set in stone, this Chelsea team's place in the pantheon of modern English champions can be properly assessed and the numbers make for impressive reading.

The headline achievement is clearly 30 wins. Sunday's 5-1 demolition of Sunderland ensured that Conte's men not only became the first Premier League team to reach the landmark, but also are the first to do it in the English top flight over the course of a 38-game season.

Chelsea's tally of 93 points is second only to the intimidating total of 95 amassed by Jose Mourinho's first Premier League title-winning Blues team in 2004-05. That record-breaking side won 29 matches but lost just one, while Conte's men tasted defeat five times this season.

Tottenham were unusually strong runners-up this season. They boasted the Premier League's best attack (86 goals scored) and best defence (26 conceded) as well as the best goal difference (plus-60) of any team not to end up lifting the trophy. Their final tally of 86 points has only been surpassed in four of the past eight years in England's top flight.

But those numbers should serve to enhance Chelsea's achievement rather than diminish it. In spite of Spurs' historic season, their London rivals still managed to beat them to the Premier League title by seven points -- slightly above the average margin of victory (6.52 points) since 1992.

The 2016-17 Chelsea are only the sixth side in Premier League history to finish top without possessing either the best attack or defence in the division. They did, however, score only one fewer goal (85) than Tottenham and found the net far more often than Leicester City last season (68) or themselves in 2014-15 (73).

Along the way, Conte's men equalled the record for consecutive Premier League victories in a single season with a 13-game win streak from Oct. 1 to New Year's Eve. They also won 13 matches away from Stamford Bridge, becoming the first champions to fare that well on the road since Manchester United in 2006-07.

Key to Chelsea's success this season was their ability to take the initiative. They scored the first goal in 30 of their 38 Premier League games and didn't concede a single goal after a Conte substitution until Olivier Giroud netted an injury-time consolation for Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Feb. 4. All in all, the Blues spent just 457 minutes in losing positions.

Chelsea's sparse fixture schedule was a persistent source of frustration for their rivals, and there is no doubt that a lack of European commitments helped Conte and his team considerably. The FA Cup final will be the Blues' 47th game of the campaign: in 25 seasons of the Premier League, last year's Leicester City side are the only champions to have played fewer matches (43).

Navigating just one game a week for much of the season meant that Conte could rely on a small core of players, of whom nine -- Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Gary Cahill, Marcos Alonso, Nemanja Matic, N'Golo Kante, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa -- started at least 30 of Chelsea's 38 games.

Azpilicueta became only the fourth outfielder to play every minute of a Premier League title-winning campaign, matching the achievement of United stalwart Gary Pallister in 1992-93, Chelsea captain John Terry in 2014-15 and Leicester City skipper Wes Morgan last season.

Courtois also secured his first Premier League Golden Glove with 16 clean sheets, 10 of which were recorded during Chelsea's 13-game win streak. Aside from that remarkable three-month spell, the Blues' defence was solid rather than spectacular, although their final tally of 33 goals conceded was only bettered in two of the previous six seasons.

Ominously for Chelsea's rivals, Conte has a point when he says that his team can still improve. Another summer of big spending elsewhere and the imminent return of Champions League football means they will almost certainly have to.

There can be no doubt, however, that the Chelsea team he has put together this season should go down as one of the very best in Premier League history.