And so Chelsea's implacable title-winning machine reaches its ultimate goal. Dominating the Premier League to the extent we did -- we've looked like possible winners since André Schürrle's goal against Burnley, likely ones since that 1-1 draw at the Etihad later in autumn and sure ones since Manchester City's hilarious collapse in January -- draws a very different emotional response to, say, winning the Champions League in Munich.
The 1-0 victory against Palace was the result of a long, brilliant grind, and full-time was greeted with relief just as much as happiness. Having been handed the league months ago, the Blues managed not to [fun] it all up, and after the wins against Queens Park Rangers and Manchester United, even the most staunchly pessimistic fan would have admitted that the question was when, rather than if. The answer: today.
Alan Pardew and his teams have been enough of a thorn in Chelsea's side that Jose Mourinho singled them out for special treatment in the pre-match conference, and Palace certainly delivered. The visitors put in a battling performance which belied their recent form, making life uncomfortable for the midfield and fundamentally disrupting the Blues' attack. Fortunately, however, their hard work came at a cost, and the Eagles never seriously tested Thibaut Courtois despite rather thoroughly vexing Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic.
In between the intermittent Palace attacks, Chelsea's possession was mostly sterile. We've struggled to play fluid football without Oscar in the lineup, and with Didier Drogba up top on his own the problems were even more obvious. Nothing was quite coming off, with even Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas getting touches just wrong and allowing a buzzing mass on yellow shirts to nick the ball whenever danger loomed.
Meanwhile Juan Cuadrado, handed a rare start thanks to Ramires dropping out of the squad with an illness, was working diligently but mostly ineffectively on the right flank. There was no hint of the promising interplay between the Colombian and Eden Hazard that hard marked his early appearances, and whenever he did try to get forward his teammates were spectacularly bad at passing to him.
All of which paints a picture, one hopes, of two side playing in midfield without a sniff of a chance on goal. Or, indeed, the sniff of a sniff of a chance. It was dull. Perhaps one might describe it as boring. For a little while it seemed as though Mourinho would happily ride 0-0s all the way to the title, but Eden Hazard put that thought to rest just before halftime.
There's not a whole lot defence can do once Hazard gets into tippity-tappity-hoppity-skippety mode, and his 44th-minute burst into the penalty box was only ended when Palace midfielder James McArthur dangled a leg and sent the Player of the Year sprawling to the turf. Kevin Friend point to the spot, and Hazard dusted himself off to take the penalty.
The last time Chelsea won the league was in 2010, a chase that came down to the final match of the season. A penalty was key to the story then as well, with Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba having a bit of a contretemps over who'd take the spot kick to make it 2-0 in what eventually turned out to be a hilarious eight-goal win. There was no such debate here. Hazard would take, and Hazard would score.
Score he did ... eventually. Palace keeper Julian Speroni took the eminently sensible decision of refusing to commit until his opponent did, leaving Hazard to fire a bemused, sad effort a little to Speroni's left. It was an easy save, but the rebound popped right back out to the Belgian, who sheepishly headed home before wiping off his brow in celebratory relief.
Mourinho moved to a more defensive footing at the interval, pulling off Cuadrado for John Obi Mikel and switching Chelsea into a 4-3-3 which dominated possession until Pardew made a switch of his own. The first fifteen minutes of the second half were a magnificent demonstration of control -- the Blues must have had the ball for at least 80 percent of the time, and could have put an exclamation mark upon proceedings when Mikel broke into the box and shot ... right down Speroni's throat.
The Eagles, completely outmatched by Chelsea's new shape, made a series of changes, bringing in Glenn Murray and attempting some rather more direct stuff than they'd tried earlier in the game. That didn't really work either, but it did give them an out ball for the long clearances they were repeatedly forced into, and broke the monopoly on possession that the Blues were attempting.
Still Courtois was untroubled, although a snapshot from Jason Puncheon might have caused us some grief if it had been six inches inside the far post rather than beyond. And with Kurt Zouma introduced for the impressive Willian, it seemed as though the keeper would be still less bothered with Chelsea spending the final 15 minutes wielding large midfielders like a particularly angry shield.
Palace tried to step forward and do some damage, but even when they breached our guard they weren't on the same page, and the only impressive stop Courtois had to make was against Wilfried Zaha from a very tight angle. A late claim by the Belgian and then a late substitution, with Filipe Luis coming on far Hazard, was enough to get Friend to blow for full time.
And that left us as Premier League champions, with three games to spare. Perhaps next year Manchester City won't press the self-destruct button for New Years, or Arsenal will mount a title challenge that isn't 90 percent irony 10 percent delusion. Perhaps we'll be pushed until we fall. But not this season. Serene supremacy is the order of the day.