When they had cleared away all the streamers and the tickertape at Stamford Bridge yesterday, when they had scraped what was left of Wigan Athletic off the turf, and finally closed the gates, no one could be in any doubt that this was the team of the year.
Just to remind us, the 2010 Premier League champions ended with 90 minutes that distilled all the many qualities of their season into one climactic, masterpiece of a performance. They could have scored one goal to win their fourth league title, instead they laid on eight in a merciless display of attacking football against an opponent that had all but given up within half-an-hour.
It had the lot: a Frank Lampard penalty; a Didier Drogba sulk; a Didier Drogba hat-trick; a collectors' item of a volley from Ashley Cole and, on the touchline, Carlo Ancelotti could at last enjoy himself. He waved to every side of the ground long before the final whistle as his team did him the favour of coasting rather than crawling over the finishing line.
This was Chelsea as their title-winning teams will surely be remembered by posterity: ruthless, unyielding and meticulously well-drilled. Up in the best seats in the house, Roman Abramovich flinched and fidgeted as the first couple of goals went in and then gradually he too relaxed. Even his bodyguards started applauding the goals. The whole place lightened up.
No-one could begrudge Chelsea this league title. Not with a record 103 goals and victories home and away against Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool – something that United did not achieve in their past three title winning seasons. Sir Alex Ferguson said he hoped for a miracle at Stamford Bridge and you could say he got one: somehow Wigan managed to keep the goals conceded to single-figures.
There was plenty of exuberance in the celebrations at the end, none more so than from John Terry who escorted his wife Toni off the pitch hand-in-hand through the discarded streamers and tickertape in a scene straight out of the pages of Hello! The Chelsea captain just could not drag himself away from the adoration of the crowd and, when you consider the season that he has had, it is not hard to see why.
For once, the discordant family that is Chelsea football club looked very happy with itself. The owner beamed; the players celebrated; the WAGs tottered around the pitch on their heels and the fans, a sceptical lot at the best of times, gave Ancelotti their full endorsement. "We have waited three years for this," Terry shouted into the mic. "This is what it's about, being champions year after year."
Ancelotti had finally let rip with his emotions during the game, his fists clenched, the relief very obvious when Chelsea went six goals up. It might have been a trifle ambitious for him to address the crowd via the stadium mic at the end of the match. He spoke for about a minute and the only part of his speech that was comprehensible was his final exhortation: "Come on Chelsea!"
They finally got Florent Malouda, the last of the players, off the pitch and down the tunnel at 7pm and by then the game seemed something of a distant memory. Yet for all the players' families on the pitch afterwards and the expensive champagne that was wasted on the grass it was the performance that was the most memorable part of the day.
Nicolas Anelka volleyed in the first goal from Malouda's knockdown on six minutes and, although Malouda was offside, you knew from that point that this was going to be a procession. From then on Wigan scarcely figured in the game but that did not mean that it was not without one major flashpoint.
That was provided by Drogba who went into an extraordinary funk after he was denied taking the penalty that Lampard won on 31 minutes. Drogba needed just one goal to go ahead of Wayne Rooney in the Premier League goalscoring chart and he was furious that Lampard denied him the chance. So much so that the Englishman cut short his celebrations to placate his team-mate.
Drogba is a bizarre character at times. He carried on this charade until half-time, shaking his head and looking despondent. Gary Caldwell had been sent off for his challenge on Lampard and Wigan were clearly there for the taking. The rest of the Chelsea team sensed that but, like an affronted toddler, Drogba wanted everyone to know he was not happy. They brought Chelsea's 1955 title-winning captain Roy Bentley onto the pitch at half-time – at 85 years old he is older than a lot of the Chelsea pensioners. If they had given him a squad number and put him up front for the second half, even he might have got on the scoresheet, so deflated and defeated were the opposition.
Salomon Kalou scored the third and Anelka added the fourth before Drogba scored his first. His hat-trick came in the space of 17 minutes just after the hour. The first was a back-post header; the second a penalty that Lampard let him have after Ashley Cole was brought down in the area and the third a rebound after Joe Cole's shot was saved.
That was seven goals for Chelsea; the fourth time they have reached that total in the league this season. They went one better in injury-time when Ashley Cole volleyed in Joe Cole's cross from the right. Seven goals has felt fairly commonplace at Stamford Bridge this season; eight goals marked yesterday out as a really special occasion.
It might well be the last that we see of Joe Cole in a Chelsea shirt. His demands to be paid the same as Lampard and Terry are ambitious enough but he must be worried that Ancelotti does not really see a place for him in this team. With Fabio Capello watching yesterday, Cole was only a second-half substitute – the return of Michael Essien next season and new signings in the summer could push him further to the margins.
Saturday will be the FA Cup final and if Wigan can ship eight goals then it makes you wonder what might happen to poor old Portsmouth if they concede one early on or, like Wigan, go down to ten men. It could be a brutal occasion against the new league champions who, on this evidence, are in no mood to take prisoners.
Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Ivanovic (Belletti, 59), Alex, Terry, A Cole; Lampard, Ballack (Matic, 70), Malouda; Kalou (J Cole, 59), Drogba, Anelka. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Zhirkov, Ferreira, Sturridge.
Wigan Athletic (3-5-2): Pollitt; Boyce, Caldwell, Gohouri; Melchiot, Diame (Scharner, 72), McCarthy, Watson (Thomas, 62), Gigueroa; N'Zogbia, Rodallega (Moses, 81). Substitutes not used: Stojkovic (gk), Scotland, Cywka, Mostoe.
Booked: Chelsea Drogba Wigan Ghouri, N'Zogbia
Sent off: Caldwell
Referee: M Atkinson (Yorkshire)
Man of the match: Kalou
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