Ever-changing of the guard yields similar results for Chelsea
Chelsea lifted the Europa League trophy in Baku, even if very few Blues made it there to see them. Dan Levene, stranded in London like the rest, saw a changing of the guard, as the season ended in glory.
Athens, Stockholm, Munich, Amsterdam, Baku. Another great city writes its name in Chelsea's European pedigree. It's just a shame so few were allowed to witness it in person.
The camera panned, early, to show swathes of empty seats – most true fans having been alienated by the price, and difficulty of the journey; and even sponsors having reportedly sent back tickets.
“F**k off UEFA, is this what you want?” asked the select few intrepid fans who had travelled.
Somewhere up in the gods, a besuited Nyoncrat on corporate hospitality surely smirked and nodded.
English DJ Jonas Blue performs prior to the UEFA Europa League final football match between Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC at the Baku Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijian on May 29, 201Getty Images
There were, though, a few familiar faces out there: plus loads of new ones. If there is a benefit to a game in a location such as this, it has to be the once-in-a-lifetime chance for the Iraqi Chelsea Supporters Club to see their side in a major final.
It's just a disgrace that has to come at the expense of so many others who have done so many of the hard yards down the years.
A previous trip to Baku taught me that the locals love a 'goyarti gutabi' – a herb-filled pancake – for breakfast. And the atmosphere here was as flat as one.
Lacazette, Kepa - Chelsea-Arsenal - Europa League 2018/2019 - Getty ImagesGetty Images
The first half met that atmosphere adeptly: if Chelsea had been criticised for their recent awayday in Boston, the friendly had at least been decent preparation for the complete lack of intensity here.
“I don't think Chelsea can be as bad again in the second half,” said Martin Keown.
Don't you just hate it when pundits fail to do their research?
Except, on this occasion, Keown was right.
Chelsea stormed out of the blocks, with a goal from Olivier Giroud four minutes after the break.
Then Pedro, and then a brace from Eden Hazard – wrapped around a consolation effort from Alex Iwobi.
Giroud - Chelsea-Arsenal - Europa League 2018/2019 - Getty ImagesGetty Images
Chelsea were flying.
So much of the talk this season had been about the ineffectual nature of Maurizio Sarri's half time team talks. Was this him using what is likely to be his last to finally make a difference?
Another much derided actor finally putting in an Oscar-winning performance on the big stage was Mateo Kovacic.
Many, this reporter included, had spent much of the season questioning what his point might be. There were no such questions tonight, as he ran the Chelsea midfield.
Arsenal's Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira (L) and Chelsea's Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic vie for the ball during the UEFA Europa League final football match between Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC at the Baku Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijian on MayGetty Images
A fact helped, in a great part, by the deployment of N'golo Kante – in his actual, proper position.
It's amazing how these things work when you follow the instructions on the box, Maurizio.
He had earlier asked to be judged not on what happened here, but on what he had already done.
And that will be the case: his trophy duck finally broken, but the Italian surely off for pastures new before Chelsea kick another ball in anger.
Maurizio Sarri head coach / manager of Chelsea with his medal after winning the UEFA Europa League Final between Chelsea and Arsenal at Baku Olimpiya Stadionu on May 29, 2019 in Baku, Azerbaijan.Getty Images
At the very end, the biggest question of all – one to which most really knew the outcome – was answered.
“It's a goodbye,” said Hazard. “You will know in a couple of days.”
And what a way to go out.
Hazard's last bow, Gary Cahill's too lifting the trophy, and Sarri's.
It all happened in Baku. Even if most of us didn't actually get to see it.