London (AFP) – John Terry was given an emotional farewell by fans at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as record-breaking Chelsea beat Sunderland 5-1, including two goals from substitute Michy Batushuayi, on the day they were presented with the Premier League trophy.
The champions had to come from behind on the last day of the league campaign after Javier Manquillo put relegated Sunderland ahead, but they did so in style with Willian, Eden Hazard and Pedro also on the scoresheet.
This was Chelsea’s 30th league victory of 2016/17 — the most ever achieved by a club in the English top flight in a 38-game season.
That is a remarkable statistic when you consider this same team finished 10th in the table the previous campaign in a season where manager Jose Mourinho was sacked and the west London club missed out on European qualification.
But Chelsea have been transformed under new manager Antonio Conte, ending in top place with 93 points, seven clear of runners-up Tottenham Hotspur.
No wonder there were constant chants of “Antonio, Antonio” echoing around Stamford Bridge; but this was also a huge day for Terry.
The veteran centre-back, the “captain, leader, legend” who has been at the heart of Chelsea’s success for the best part of two decades, was played from the start by Conte in his last ever appearance at the ground he has graced since 1998.
– ‘Thank you for everything’ –
However, in a pre-planned tribute, he was substituted and replaced by Gary Cahill in the 26th minute (reflecting his squad number) with team-mates forming a guard of honour as he left the pitch.
Fans in the Shed End also unfurled a banner which said simply “Thank you for everything JT” and included images of the 15 major trophies Terry has won in a Chelsea shirt in a career that has spanned 717 games.
For much of that time, and certainly since billionaire owner Roman Abramovich arrived, Terry has been the on-field figurehead for Chelsea Football Club, overcoming a series of off-field scandals to cement his place in the heart of every Blues fan.
However, at the age of 35, his opportunities to play have been limited this season –- he has made only six Premier League starts — and he has opted to extend his career elsewhere.
There was an early shock in store in the captain’s farewell party, however, when Seb Larsson’s free-kick was deflected straight to Manquillo, who fired home to give the visitors a surprise lead after only three minutes.
Chelsea didn’t take long to respond. Marcos Alonso had already hit the crossbar with a free-kick when Willian drilled in a low shot which Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford fumbled into his own net with only eight minutes on the clock.
It took a long time for the inevitable second goal to arrive, but when Diego Costa put Hazard clean through on goal in the 61st minute he finished superbly to set the party going.
Pedro headed home number three following a mistake by Sunderland defender Joleon Lescott with 13 minutes to go and the icing on a memorable season was in place when Batshuayi, the man whose goal won the title at West Brom, flashed home number four in the 90th minute and added another fine finish right on the final whistle.
Chelsea were presented with the Premier League trophy after full-time, the sixth league title in the club’s history and their fifth of the Premier League era.
Next season, however, they will have to cope without Terry, the man who lifted the trophy alongside defensive partner Cahill. It’s a new era all round at Stamford Bridge.