The Premier League has been in denouement for nine days now, with Sunday’s action around England serving mostly to emphasise what has already been confirmed. For Chelsea and Sunderland, there was nothing in the match — the latter would have seen it as an embarrassing last appearance in an embarrassing season, while for the Blues it was a two-hour pre-party.
John Terry started for Gary Cahill in what was otherwise a very strong Chelsea lineup. The captain’s appearance turned out to be part of the sideshow, of course, but in between we had some football. Sort of. The Black Cats, relegated officially three weeks ago and unofficially sometime around October, grabbed a shock early lead after a free kick took a bad bounce and found its way to Javi Manquillo, whose first-time rocketed into the roof of the net.
Considering that one of Chelsea’s two main aims going into the final game of the season were to set the Premier League wins record outright with 30 and to help Thibaut Courtois (one ahead of Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris) secure the Golden Gloves outright, allowing Sunderland to score inside the third minute was a fairly horrific opening. Well, as horrific as it gets when you’re the champions playing an otherwise meaningless game.
A clean sheet was off the table, but a win certainly wasn’t. Despite conceding first, the Blues were all over their deservedly-relegated guests, and it didn’t take long to find the equaliser. Jack Rodwell fouled Eden Hazard near the edge of the box, Marcos Alonso thumped his free kick against the woodwork, and the resulting scramble eventually worked its way to Willian from a tight angle, who fired in off Jordan Pickford.
Chelsea continued to push against Sunderland’s defence, which consisted of the still-competent John O’Shea flanked by the shambling and shambolic corpse of Joleon Lescott’s Premier League career and whatever the hell Billy Jones is supposed to be. Although the Black Cats wouldn’t concede again until the hour mark, it wasn’t for lack of trying: Diego Costa missed a clean chance from a smart David Luiz free kick, and both he and Hazard had open goals denied by their own awful touch.
The Blues weren’t just trying to tee up the star forwards though. Whenever the ball was high enough up the pitch, Terry joined the attack, and everyone tried to get him the goal his send-off deserved. It didn’t work, but was reasonably amusing. Unbeknownst to the spectators, Terry’s appearance would be over before half an hour passed, with Chelsea — assisted by Pickford, who played along by punting out of play — giving the captain a guard of honour off the pitch in the 26th minute.
Sunderland were accommodating of Chelsea’s extracurriculars and similarly so in front of goal. Manquillo’s opener should have been warning enough for the champions to tighten up on set pieces, but if not for Courtois the Blues might have conceded twice more from similar situations: from a free kick, Gary Cahill’s off-balance clearance went straight to O’Shea, while Rodwell got a mostly-free header on a second-half corner. Courtois dealt with both.
At this point, Hazard got bored of pretending he was playing a football match and decided to supply some pre-subsitution fireworks. A rapid counterattack saw Willian pick out Diego Costa. With the Sunderland defence totally exposed, Costa spotted Hazard’s run to his left and played a perfect ball into his path. All that was left was to demolish Billy Jones (easier done than said) and wallop a finish into the far corner. And Chelsea led 2-1.
There was only half an hour to go when the Blues took the lead, but that was plenty of time to turn the match into a rout. Pedro, on for Hazard shortly after his goal, made it 3-1 thanks to a very Sunderland mix-up in defence: Pickford came out to challenge for a long pass, Lescott tried to head it to where he thought his goalkeeper was standing, and Pedro was left to race on and nod home.
Supposed flop Michy Batshuayi was next up, capping off the game with two goals in the dying seconds. The first was a sprawling, Demba Ba-y finish after a deft through ball from Pedro, and while the second was so offside that Batshuayi at one point gave up on his run, the shot — low, hard, and in at the far corner — was good enough to make up for it.
Chelsea 5-1 Sunderland. Had this game mattered, had it been last month, or last year, or any other time of the season but now, we would have celebrated breaking through a tough defence and turning what looked like a worrying performance into a laugher. Instead, it was merely the sun and goal-drenched prelude to the main event.
After two minutes of stoppage time (Batshuayi scored his second with the final kick of the match), a flame-throwing stage sprouted in the centre of Stamford Bridge and the real fun began. The Champions received their medals, lifted their trophy, gave the most successful captain in club history the tearful sendoff he deserved, and for all I know they’re still celebrating there right now.
Meanwhile Courtois got his Golden Gloves after all: Spurs kept the pressure on Chelsea by winning 7-1 at Hull.