CHELSEA bade farewell to Didier Drogba before coming from behind to beat Sunderland 3-1 and lift the Premier League trophy on a day of celebration, farewells and potential goodbyes.
The title was sealed with three matches to go after a defeat of Crystal Palace and there was a strange atmosphere on the day of Chelsea’s coronation as a Diego Costa penalty and two Loic Remy strikes cancelled out Steven Fletcher’s opener.
Drogba announced prior to kick off the match would be his last for the Blues, while Petr Cech played in goal in potentially his final appearance after 11 years as a Chelsea player.
Dick Advocaat may also be leaving Sunderland after steering them to safety at Arsenal on Wednesday night.
Drogba was, bizarrely, carried off by his team-mates after 29 minutes in a pre-planned substitution.
Perhaps distracted by the celebrations, Chelsea were already a goal down as Fletcher headed in Adam Johnson’s corner.
The Black Cats are the only side to have beaten Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League, having won here last term.
This was Mourinho’s 98th home league game as Blues boss and his side responded when Costa, Drogba’s replacement, equalised from the penalty spot for his 20th Premier League goal this term.
Remy, another substitute, struck twice in the final 20 minutes to ensure a 15th win from 19 home games this term.
Chelsea paraded many of their 2004/05 title-winning squad prior to kick-off, although Frank Lampard was saying his farewells to England with Manchester City.
That was Mourinho’s first Premier League and Chelsea’s first championship in 50 years and perhaps he was making a point to his current squad, who he said on Friday had a long way to go to become great.
Another point was made by a banner in the Matthew Harding End which read: “Players come and go. Legends last forever.”
Drogba is revered after an eight-year first spell which yielded 157 goals in 341 appearances and which concluded with the memorable Champions League win in Munich three years ago.
His season-long second spell has been less fruitful, but he has claimed the Capital One Cup and a fourth Premier League title, Chelsea’s first in five years.
Drogba captained the Blues in an emotional selection, with Eden Hazard fit to start despite requiring emergency dental surgery during the week.
The Belgian dazzled once more as he, along with Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry started all 38 of Chelsea’s league games.
Terry completed the Sunderland clash to become only the second outfield player to play every minute in a Premier League season and win the title, after Manchester United’s Gary Pallister in 1992-93.
Sunderland were immediately under pressure as Vito Mannone punched Willian’s free-kick clear under pressure from Ivanovic and then saved as Drogba tried to divert Juan Cuadrado’s cross in.
There were times when Cech - displaced by Thibaut Courtois after a decade as number one - showed his class, but whether a move to rivals Arsenal or Manchester United is permitted remains to be seen.
He saved from Sebastian Larsson and Jermain Defoe before being beaten by Fletcher’s header after Johnson’s corner evaded Terry at the back post.
Drogba departed, but was soon left to rue not staying on for a few more minutes as Cuadrado was felled by John O’Shea. Costa converted the penalty.
Cuadrado then hobbled off with Remy on in his place, before Cech denied Defoe again.
Hazard played a key role in Chelsea’s second, bursting forward before finding Remy, whose shot squirmed under Mannone.
Fletcher headed wide as Sunderland sought a quick-fire reply, but it was Chelsea who scored next as Nemanja Matic’s cross was tucked in at the near post by Remy and the celebrations began in earnest.