Chelsea have been through a season of transition, but there is still much to do in terms of personnel if they are to compete again next year. Andy Brassell takes a look...
"Having Nemanja Matic for a whole season will be a huge boost, Thibaut Courtois could still return, and the sales of Kevin de Bruyne and Juan Mata to move towards Financial Fair Play (FFP) compliance seems even more sage in a week that City and Paris Saint-Germain are due to be punished for their own infringements of the regulations."
It has been a strange past week for Chelsea. Beginning with a Champions League semi-final exit to Atlético Madrid and continuing with the limp draw with Norwich that all but conceded hope of the Premier League title, one might see Monday night's FA Youth Cup win over Fulham - presided over by a rather glum-looking José Mourinho - as scant consolation.
In fact, we should really be making the link between the latter two events as Mourinho maps Chelsea's future. The most notable event of a rather flat Sunday afternoon at Stamford Bridge was after the match, when John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard saluted the home crowd with varying levels of visible emotion.
With the trio all out of contract and degrees of doubt about all their futures to some degree or another, it was a jolting reminder that the Blues are in times of change. If much of the first XI which - as Mourinho has rightly underlined - have performed well this season will remain, a couple of crucial major changes will be made.
The thrilling cup win by Chelsea's fledglings in the second leg of the final at Stamford Bridge, outscoring even the extraordinary narrative taking place at Selhurst Park at the same time, projected forward a little bit further.
The immediate value of such talent is of more relevance to the vanquished Fulham than it is to the winners; Patrick Roberts and Moussa Dembélé (not that one) are likely to feature regularly as the Cottagers embark on a first Championship campaign in more than a decade, while Chelsea's goal hero, Dominic Solanke, is light years from the first-team at the tender age of 16.
Yet as Chelsea make a move towards a younger set-up, the challenge of helping these starlets step up towards the first team in a way that they haven't always managed in the past is a germane one. It is perhaps even closer than we think, with one of the Youth Cup-winning XI, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, having already been incorporated into the first-team squad this season. A young one breaking through, just as Terry enters the twilight of his career, would represent some sort of satisfying circularity.
It is the old Chelsea - the durability that Mourinho instils, mainly - that has them as second favourites for next season's Premier League already at 3.55, just behind Manchester City (3.1511/5) and ahead of what is expected to be a resurgent Manchester United (6.411/2). Yet it is the preparation for the future already done that makes them a prospect.
Having Nemanja Matic for a whole season will be a huge boost, Thibaut Courtois could still return, and the sales of Kevin de Bruyne and Juan Mata to move towards Financial Fair Play (FFP) compliance seems even more sage in a week that City and Paris Saint-Germain are due to be punished for their own infringements of the regulations.
There are still issues to be dealt with, not least what to do with Fernando Torres if a front-line striker in the Diego Costa mould is to be brought in. Wanting to move him on is one thing, but finding someone to absorb the entirety of his substantial wages is quite another.
If Chelsea can resolve these lingering issues with suitable speed, then Mourinho's pleading of a transitional season will seem reasonable, rather than the missed opportunity that it might be judged as at the moment. What lingers over next season is that the intrigue of this one might be repeated, with the big five of City, Chelsea, United, Liverpool and Arsenal all a realistic shout. Another open league would be great for us, even if it's probably the last thing that Mourinho would want.