So long, 2018/19 season. It's been a long, hard graft, but Chelsea have finally emerged from the depths of this strange, strange season fit enough to tell the tale.
From the highs of the unbeaten start, to the lows of the Etihad and Vitality, to the highs of the EFL Cup final, to the lows of the EFL Cup final, it's been some campaign.
And that was all before the club only went and smashed Arsenal 4-1 in the Europa League, securing Maurizio Sarri's first trophy and a fairytale end for Eden Hazard.
But what grade would this season receive if someone drafted some kind of report card? Let's find out.
Premier League - 3rd
Rollercoaster ride doesn't even describe the half of it, because rollercoasters last, like, two minutes maximum. This league season has lasted approximately two decades. Or two million. On the first day, Maurizio Sarri let in the light, and this light lasted for 12 unbeaten games.
Then, he created the sky, showing the team's clear limits in a 3-1 loss to Tottenham. The land, seas, plants and trees came in the glorious 2-0 victory against Manchester City, which snapped the Citizens' 21-game unbeaten streak and sparked the Blues' makeshift title bid back into life.
The darkness came in a four-game stretch in January, when the Blues lost 2-0 to Arsenal, 4-0 to Bournemouth, beat Huddersfield 5-0 (showing that the night can contain some beauty, like the stars and stuff) and lost 6-0 to City (showing that it's mainly dark and full of terrors).
But then Spurs were beaten at Stamford Bridge, and all the sea creatures and birds appeared and were like 'well done, lads, London is ours!' And finally, the land animals and human beings were created with the 3-0 victory against Brighton when, in God's image, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi roamed the Stamford Bridge pitch with unseen freedom.
In line with God's sabbatical ways, Chelsea then rested for the remainder of their six league fixtures, winning just two games - against West Ham and Watford - but it didn't matter, for everyone else was also caught napping and the future was sketched out: Chelsea would play Champions League football once more!
That elongated religious allegory was, in itself, a nice allegory for the league season as a whole: it was long, it was fraught, it had its ups and downs, its supporters and detractors, but ultimately it achieved what it set out to do and that should be commended, I think.
Domestic Cup Performance
FA Cup - Fifth Round
Now, if there was a religious allegory to be had here (not that this will become a thing, promise), it would be one of the revenge ones... See I told you this wouldn't become a thing, I'm not theological enough for it.
After shoving aside Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday, the defending champions were ousted by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's resurgent Manchester United side, who avenged their final defeat from six months prior.
Following directly on from the City sledge-hammering, this was one of the lowest moments of the campaign, with the nadir coming in the vociferous 'f*ck Sarri-ball' chants. Still, this was also peak 'Ole's at the Wheel!!!', so a little perspective, perhaps?
EFL Cup - Final
For a so-called Mickey Mouse domestic cup, the Carabao didn't half have its moments for Chelsea this season. In fact, save for the wins against City and Tottenham, or the *spoiler* triumphant Europa League journey, it had every good moment.
From Eden Hazard's bittersweet symphony of a winner against Liverpool, to the spirited encounter with Frank Lampard's Derby County, to the penalty shootout victory over the eventual Champions League finalists (*shudder*), it had it all.
As did the final, which, in the same breath, showed the players' perseverance, Sarri's pragmatism, the players' untethered toxic power and Sarri's inability to curb it. All in one 0-0 which ended in tears.
Continental Cup Performance
Europa League - Winners
With all the Game of Thrones-esque drama of modern football/life, the Europa League has provided some much-needed escapism. It's been a mood with a little plot, a little drama, but nothing too heavy so as to spoil your Thursday night.
Like, I don't know, 'Gilmore Girls': disposable, but a source of fun in an otherwise draining season. And this carried through to the final. Even with the highly-charged stakes of it being a London derby, thanks to the charming combination of Baku's disastrous pitch and atmosphere, the tension was never really ratcheted beyond that.
That second-half performance was undoubtedly the slickest Chelsea have put in to date under Sarri, but the relative ease at which it was achieved meant that the occasion seemed more pre-season friendly than major European final.
Thing is, it still was a major European final, and therefore another major European trophy, the fifth in the club's history.
Need I say more. Every single fan is aware of the supreme excellence of Eden Hazard, of the uplifting performances he's put in across the season, the heart-in-mouth goals (Liverpool and West Ham stand out) and the beat-ten-men-then-put-on-a-plate-for-player-x assists.
And everyone is similarly cognisant of the gut-punch that is to come, because it's been there, barely under the surface, in every moment of eye-popping quality. He's leaving, and he's leaving at the worst time, but he's earned it, and he's therefore leaving with his head held high and his legacy set in stone.
... I'm not crying, you're crying.
Oh wait, I am crying, because I've just watched a montage of Marcos Alonso's 'tracking back' endeavours. Don't get me wrong, there have been a few contenders, from the pair of confidence junkies up front who unwittingly went cold turkey (Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain), to the pointless Mateo Kovacic, to the far-too-ineffectual Willian, it's certainly a stronger category than the previous one.
But still, no one's ineptness has exceeded Alonso's this term, and it's actually been pleasing for the wider world, and even the club, to finally accept this fact.
*Anglicised Thierry Henry voice* OOOOOOHHHH, BLIMEY.
Well, here we are then *pours stiff drink*. Maurizio Sarri's end of season evaluation. The point in the article where we make friends and we make enemies and that's that. The point in the article where we separate the proper stadium-going fans from the fake sofa-lying, keyboard-typing ones. Yikes.
I wish everyone could get along, but I'm not naive enough to think we will. So, without further ado, I will plant my flag... Andiamo!
Seriously, though, who can truly deny the job that Maurizio Sarri has done this season? No, he hasn't endeared himself to the fans, nor has he always selected the "right" XI, but he's also taken the club to two Cup finals and won one by going completely unbeaten throughout the competition for the first time in its history, all while attempting to instil a starkly alien style of play.
He has hauled the club back to the Champions League, back where they belong, and if he is to leave the club this summer, he will do so as a greater manager than before he arrived. There has always been something strangely dark about the way in which he has covered and portrayed in England, and he deserved his moment in the Azerbaijan sun - even if it was long past midnight by the time he lifted the first trophy of his career.
Maurizio Sarri taking a moment on his own to just look at his Europa League winner's medal is everything 💙 pic.twitter.com/s3VEQTEKp9— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 30, 2019
This video of him reacting to picking up this first piece of silverware encapsulates everything that football is supposed to be about. You deserve it, Maurizio.
Last season, I gave Chelsea a C+, following their beguiling combination of league ignominy and FA Cup glory. But that was also impacted by the success of the season before.
As alluded to, this season has been even harder to gauge. If you were to look on Twitter, you would think the club had been liquidated, let alone suffered an inferior season to 2017/18, but surprise, surprise, Twitter is not always the opinion barometer it seeks to be.
Two finals have been reached, one has been won, and a third-place finish behind two of the greatest teams in the league's history attained. Homegrown youngsters such as Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi were finally allowed to prosper, amassing an unprecedented 3122 minutes in 64 appearances across competitions and providing a combined 16 goals and 12 assists.
Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Reece James, *Tammy Abraham, Ola Aina, *Kurt Zouma and Jake Clarke-Salter have all enjoyed breakout/*imposing loan spells. Hell, even Tiemoue Bakayoko has been impressive at AC Milan.
Yes, a legend is leaving and the risk of a transfer ban still looms large, but the club have, quite simply, the greatest list of reserves in the country, probably the globe. Besides - and trust me, I hate reiterating this as much as you hate being reminded of it - this season's Champions League finalists haven't bought anyone in two windows, and look where they are.
The parameters for success have changed in the last two years, but the future can still be bright, just as the brightness of this season should not be lost on you just because of stubborn allegiances to what once was.
Overall Grade: B+
Source : 90min