Chelsea all but won the title months ago. Maybe nearly a year ago, when Jose Mourinho and others completed the recruitment programme necessary to meet requirements left by the ageing of Didier Drogba – before he went to Galatasary – Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard and a belated realisation that John Obi Mikel would never fill the socks of Claude Makelele, let alone his boots.
Even without the recall from loan of Thibaut Courtois, the signings of Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Felipe Luis would have completed a jigsaw. Of course it still required Jose Mourinho to put the pieces together and keep them in place – in the event Felipe Luis was seldom needed because Mourinho decided that the more defensive Cesar Azpilicueta suited John Terry better - but brilliant management did the rest.
You saw it even the other night at Leicester, where Chelsea were trailing when Mourinho made a tactical tweak at half-time, coupled with the delivery of an earful that ensured his men never stopped feverishly enacting the new plan until a deficit had been turned into a 3-1 win over one of the Premier League’s form teams on their own raucous, rocking ground.
Chelsea performed, over and over again. They did not always dazzle as at Swansea, where they won 5-0 in sumptuous style, but there were very few poor displays. They were, in short, the worthiest of champions by dint of being the most consistently professional of the top teams. By miles.
Which brings us to Newcastle United, who have become the most consistently unprofessional of the bottom teams. By miles.
For me, or anyone concerned with the overall health of the Premier League, the decline of Newcastle is more significant than the dominance of Chelsea. It reached what I hope will be rock-bottom on Saturday when they became victims of a Leicester side admirably prepared by Nigel Pearson.
Only two and a half days after their chastening experience at the hands of Chelsea, the once-favourites for relegation hit Newcastle like a whirlwind, taking the lead through Leonardo Ulloa inside a minute and all but finishing the contest in the 17th when, again from a poorly defended set piece, home skipper Wes Morgan struck.
Ulloa rounded off the scoring early in the second half, but Leicester did not quite get the credit they deserved because of what happened subsequently as first Mike Williamson got himself sent off and then Daryl Janmaat also foolishly, petulantly, incurred a second yellow card, completing the Tyneside club’s disgrace.
Both players will be ruled out of the next match, at home to West Bromwich on Saturday, but neither they nor any other Newcastle player fooled the travelling fans, many of whom gathered to jeer them on to the coach afterwards. And temporary manager John Carver was very much with those fans – he made that clear in a scathing verdict that included a musing that Williamson might have deliberately got himself dismissed as an ‘’easy way out’’.
Amid the pain of such a supine defeat, Carver’s accusation was human – and it could equally have been levelled at Janmaat. My guess was more that both culprits thought a show of aggression, however crass, might have persuaded the travelling fans that they were showing a bit of fight. It was to Carver’s credit that he didn’t go along with this piece of transparent nonsense.
Newcastle are not alone in giving poor value to the relatively hard-pressed followers of their club, even if eight consecutive defeats have plunged them perilously close to the relegation zone (many of those travelling fans have to take a share of the responsibility, if they are honest with themselves, the ones who started the successful campaign to persuade Alan Pardew to leave).
No, there are plenty of teams whose levels of effort and application seem to be affected by the urgency of their plight. Look at Hull, who face Arsenal tonight – they have just beaten Palace and Liverpool in a style that, if achieved earlier in the season, would never have allowed it to become a scary one for their support. But, again, they are not unusual.
Often, at this late but, for some, crucial stage of the season, teams are described as being ‘’on the beach’’. And yet the players are still being paid. Is that not a scandal? That they should go through the motions and still be paid as if they were virtuoso musicians, on top form or close to it every single performance because that is the standard they and others expect.
Sometimes football teams cheat their public and, thanks to Carver, we can talk about it now. He has done the game a service and perhaps it is time for fans up and down the country to take their lead from Disgruntled of Newcastle. He’s blamed Mike Ashley (rightly) and Pardew (rather oddly) and now at last he’s having a go at the people in black and white shirt who are capable, if they wish, of doing something.
Will West Bromwich be ‘’on the beach’’ at the weekend? If Newcastle are, they’ll certainly be hearing about it from the inhabitants of St James’.