Changing of the guard at Chelsea as Thiago Silva leaves with young team back in Europe

The Blues ended the season on a high (Bradley Collyer/PA Wire)
The Blues ended the season on a high (Bradley Collyer/PA Wire)

For so much of this season it didn’t look possible, but a rehabilitative end to the season from Chelsea means European football will return to Stamford Bridge next term.

The Blues will have to wait to discover whether that means competing in the Europa League or instead the Europa Conference League. It will be the former unless Manchester United beat their city rivals in next weekend’s FA Cup final.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side will not concern themselves with permutations outside of their control, though. It is, after all, by focusing on themselves that they have even got themselves into this position, ending the season a much more cohesive unit that they began it.

This 2-1 win against Bournemouth on the final day of the season saw Chelsea finish the campaign with five wins from their last five matches, sensational form from a side who have so struggled for just that — form — in a turbulent last three years.

There was an emotional goodbye to Thiago Silva, who returns to Fluminense this summer, bringing to an end a four-year stay in West London that has included lifting the Champions League, the darkest months of Chelsea’s modern history, and everything in between.

And yet while tifos and chants and the presence of the mid-May sunshine gave this match the unmistakable feeling of the 38th game of a 38-game season, it never lacked a competitive nature, as shown by the yellow card rightly brandished in Antoine Semenyo’s face when he had hurled Marc Cucurella to the turf.

Thiago Silva has bid farewell to Chelsea (AFP via Getty Images)
Thiago Silva has bid farewell to Chelsea (AFP via Getty Images)

It offered a source of humour that when Chelsea’s intricate attacks were failing to buy them the lead in the first half, they eventually earned it through Moises Caicedo’s most route-one effort of all — the Ecuadorian lobbing into the net from the halfway line, catching goalkeeper Neto in no-man’s-land.

Raheem Sterling’s second-half goal may not have been quite so sensational to watch, but it showed the bravery of Chelsea’s attack as the elder statesman took Bournemouth on down the left, turned Illia Zabarnyi inside out and tucked through Neto’s legs.

It will concern Pochettino that the daylight between his side and their visitors lasted only a minute before the Cherries struck back through Enes Unal. However, Chelsea saw out the game in a mature fashion, letting Bournemouth come on to them but in a controlled manager and still possessing a threat on the break themselves.

Chelsea still left a little up to luck as Dominic Solanke skied a glorious chance to steal a 2-2 draw for the Cherries against his former team, but the hosts deserved their victory.

Silva was serenaded out of the tunnel and through a guard of honour from his team-mates after the final whistle. It was a fitting send-off for an experienced player who knows how to win and who lifted no less than the Champions League with Chelsea. It is up to the young crop to ensure the club are challenging for the biggest trophies again before long.