GILES SMITH: SAGA SEASON
As Sunday's lap of appreciation after the final home game drifts into the annals of time, columnist Giles Smith is still looking ahead…
So, now it's all about retaining focus and finding the energy for that one final push. By my reckoning, just three points from these two games against Manchester City, and we all but certainly finish second on goal difference. And four points, of course, absolutely seals it.
Okay, it doesn't, in fact. But you'd be forgiven for getting confused about these post-season friendlies in St. Louis and New York - forgiven for not realising that you can now officially unwind and let it all go.
When did Chelsea last play a game that had no real consequences and didn't seem to matter? Can we even remember that far back? This was a season in which games with an awful lot hanging on them came twice a week - and, for one memorably draining period, three times a week.
It was, surely, the most dizzying season ever. The simplest thing would be to list the things that didn't happen these past months (a swarm of locusts, away at Wigan: that's about it), but here, instead, is a random selection of just a handful of the things that did.
Sixty-nine games, all told; the change of manager; the Frank Lampard record-pursuit (against a very loudly ticking clock, it seemed, before that little matter was resolved); the Champions League group-stage adventure; the rise and rise of David Luiz; Ballboygate in Swansea; Bitegate in Liverpool; Fernando '22-Goal' Torres; defeat in Japan in December, of all places, of all times; having to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, and therefore doing so; losing an FA Cup semi-final; the form of Juan Mata; the form of Petr Cech; Brana rising to 14,000 feet in the third minute of added time in Amsterdam… By any analysis, this past year veered from low-grade soap opera to high-end theatre and covered all the dramatic ground in between.
The season review on DVD had probably better be a box set, then, something along the lines of The Wire, Series 1-5. I'm looking forward to setting a month or so aside in order to go through it, though I have no expectation of ever quite getting over it.
The so-called '39th game' (which it would have been, more or less, for Arsenal, though in our case it would actually have been the 70th game) was all set to go next Sunday at Villa Park. Amazing to reflect that, had we drawn against Everton last Sunday, and had Arsenal scored two more goals than us in a victory by a one-goal margin over Newcastle, even now we would be steeling ourselves for some play-off action to decide who would have the honour of third place.
Instead of which we're now battling City for the four points which will confirm second. Oh, hang on - no, we've been through that.
But just say the numbers had all lined up last Sunday. Many among our number would now have been readying their exhausted frames and their equally exhausted wallets for a slog up the M40 to Birmingham and back, when a completely viable, much cheaper and, in the context, far more resonant option, was available so much closer to home.
We said it here before, we'll say it again: the only place for a play-off to decide the Champions League places would have been White Hart Lane. With, perhaps, the Spurs squad returning in tracksuits to form a guard of honour, and Andre Villas-Boas as 'guest of the day' in the chairman's box.
But isn't that typical of the authorities, not to be putting the fans first?
Who doesn't enjoy an end-of-season player parade? The speeches, the trophy display, the walk-around, the family members, the flip-flops, the gifting of random items of kit to people in the Matthew Harding… there's no aspect of it that isn't to be loved.
And, best of all, the sight of the players' offspring dribbling half the length of the pitch and slamming the ball home in high style - despite the fact that, in many cases, the offspring in question are so small that the ball comes up to their knees.
This, of course, is a ritual that has been firmly in place since 2011, when Stefan Ivanovic lost his marker, went 'on a mazy', dummied the invisible goalkeeper and buried it, in a moment later immortalised by both 'Match of the Day 2' and YouTube. (818,866 hits the last time I looked. You can add some more here:
However, watching on Sunday, I did wonder whether this aspect of the ceremony in particular needed a bit of a shake-up. Don't get me wrong: I'm taking nothing away from those kids. The ability to perform on the day, under pressure, with the cameras there, in front of a full and extremely demanding Matthew Harding end should never be underestimated.
At the same time, it was clear last weekend that these children are beginning to find this business pretty easy. Indeed, I don't think even one of them missed. It was goal after goal after goal. So what I'm saying is that next season perhaps they ought to move on and do the crossbar challenge.