- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

From its pre-season transfer dealings to the form of key players and the team’s performance in the Champions League, Chelsea couldn’t have wished for a smoother campaign in the Premier League.

Here are the key factors behind Chelsea’s march to a first league title in five years on Sunday:

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OFFSEASON DEALINGS

Manager Jose Mourinho was intelligent and decisive in the offseason to bolster the vulnerable areas of his squad as he attempted to turn Chelsea from a “little horse” - as he described the team during last season’s title race - to the thoroughbred it has become.

Chelsea lacked a world-class striker last season, so Mourinho signed Diego Costa - the Spain international who guided Atletico Madrid to the Spanish title in 2013-14. Despite struggling with persistent hamstring and groin problems, Costa has scored 19 goals in the league.

In, too, came Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona to solve the issue of limited creativity in central midfield. Fabregas was a revelation in the first half of the season and has contributed a league-high 17 assists - three short of the Premier League record.

Mourinho also decided to bring goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois back from his loan spell at Atletico and make him the starting No. 1 ahead of Petr Cech. It was a tough call but it has proved the right one, with Courtois a calm and commanding presence behind Chelsea’s sold defense.

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GOOD START - AND FINISH

Chelsea lay down a marker with an opening-round 3-1 win at Burnley that featured some dazzling goals and intricate moves. In the next away game, the Blues put six goals past Everton.

In their opening 12 games, they won 10 and drew two - both away from home to Manchester City and Manchester United.

That set the tone for the season and although there was a slight dip around Christmas when Chelsea lost twice and drew at home to Southampton in a six-game span, Mourinho’s side soon recovered and hasn’t lost since Jan. 1.

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EUROPE

Chelsea was fortunate that its Champions League campaign didn’t take much out of the team, allowing plenty of focus for its domestic matches.

The team was placed in arguably the easiest of the eight groups, containing Schalke, Maribor and Sporting Lisbon. Chelsea qualified with a match to spare by beating Schalke 5-0 away and key players were rested for the final group game.

Elimination in the last 16 at the hands of Paris Saint Germain had a silver lining - Chelsea could focus entirely on the Premier League, as it had already been knocked out of the FA Cup by then. Chelsea picked up 17 of 21 points since its European exit.

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HOT HAZARD

Championship teams need every player to do their job, but one usually stands out - and in Chelsea’s case, it’s been Eden Hazard.

The Belgium winger’s status rose to world class in a season when he has scored 18 goals in all competitions and been the player Chelsea has turned to in difficult moments. His close control and technique is unmatched in the Premier League and he has added an end product to his undoubted flair.

Real Madrid great Zinedine Zidane, who coaches the Spanish side’s ‘B’ team, recently expressed his admiration for Hazard but Mourinho won’t be selling his star player any time soon. Indeed, Mourinho has said it would take a bid of “100 million pounds” for “each leg” to lure Hazard away from Stamford Bridge.

Hazard was voted by his fellow professionals as England’s player of the year last weekend.

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MOURINHO’S TACTICS

Mourinho is regarded as one of world soccer’s top tacticians and he has shown just why this season.

Content to churn out away draws against his major rivals early in the season, Mourinho got his tactics spot on over the past couple of months as the Premier League trophy loomed into view.

Chelsea beat Man United 1-0 at home with just 29.7 percent possession, then produced a masterful defensive display to draw 0-0 at Arsenal - barely giving up a shot at goal.

In recent weeks, Mourinho has batted away suggestions that his team has been “boring,” saying it is winning that really counts. But critics should not forget the effervescent attacking displays that lit up the first half of the season.

Throw in a bit of luck - a 1-0 win at QPR in April was achieved with just one shot on target - and Chelsea has had a pretty much unstoppable combination.

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