New reality dawns for Sarri's more modestly wired Chelsea
There have been far more upbeat season-finale laps of appreciation at Chelsea down the years, it has to be said.
The trophy-laden recent past has resulted in some raucous farewell post-match cavorting following final home Premier League fixtures.
We have witnessed some joyous outpourings when fans kept chanting and seemed reluctant to tear themselves away and make their way home. It has often felt in the recent past like the arrival of summer was a painful interlude to be endured rather than savoured. Three months without their heroes. However would they cope?
That is not to say warmth was lacking from the stands after Sunday’s ritual walk around the pitch which followed a 3-0 home win over Watford which signalled the close of proceedings on home soil in the league – far from it. And a fair few stayed behind to offer their customary thanks for the team’s efforts.
But it has to be admitted this felt more low-key this year. A post-vintage Chelsea. A scaled-down version of the silverware-sodden peak-Russian oligarch years.
There was fondness aplenty aimed at Gary Cahill as he waved to the crowd – as there had been when he was brought on by Maurizio Sarri for the final minutes of the match in order to say a proper goodbye, ahead of his anticipated departure.
But in many ways, it was as if they were waving farewell to the past he symbolises – leaving David Luiz as the last remaining hero of Munich 2012.
As things stand, though, the Blues have met the minimum requirements of this New Age Chelsea. Arsenal’s failure to beat Brighton a few hours after Chelsea’s win against the Hornets confirmed the Blues will be back in the Champions League next season – regardless of what happens in their final league fixture on Sunday at Leicester.
The win against Watford lifted them to third in the table, a point above Tottenham, who will join them in Uefa’s elite club competition next season, barring improbable last day results in favour of the Gunners.
Of course, there is still the small matter of Europe, with a Europa League final in Baku beckoning, providing the Blues can first get past Eintracht Frankfurt in tomorrow night's semi-final second leg.
But that competition has felt like more a means to an end – and that Chelsea have started to align themselves with the Arsenal of Arsene Wenger’s fallow years or the Tottenham of Mauricio Pochettino now – where qualification for the Champions League is the true measure of success. Chelsea used to want so much more than that.
“We want to be, at the end of the Premier League, in the top four because we want to play in the Champions League,” Sarri said.
“We consider the Europa league in a different way: it's a very important competition we want to win because we think we deserve to win a trophy this season. So we have two targets.” Two targets maybe, but one goal: Champions League qualification,and they now have that. A trophy as a mere bonus never used to be the mindset.