The chances are it will not be much of a farewell party for Rafael Benítez but if everything goes to plan in Amsterdam on Wednesday evening the Chelsea manager will head to Stamford Bridge four days later with a spring in his step. A European trophy to go with a top-four finish would allow Benítez to enjoy a moment of quiet satisfaction on the final day of the season, as he prepares to close the door on the club where he has never felt welcome.
As far as the Spaniard is concerned, qualification for the Champions League, which was his primary objective when he replaced Roberto Di Matteo in November, is already a tick in the box. "I am really proud, not just for me but for my staff and everyone involved because we have been working very hard from the beginning and you know that it was not the perfect environment," Benítez said. "I remember in England some managers, with hostility in the stands, they couldn't cope with this situation."
The abuse has been brutal at times, although Benítez, who believes there has been "a big improvement" in the team since he took over, claimed there was also respect among Chelsea supporters for his work at the club. "I receive a lot of messages on the website, and people on the street, when you go and meet them they say: 'Well done, good job.' A lot of Chelsea fans appreciate what we are trying to do. You cannot convince everyone, but you can see the commitment of the players and that they are happy with the situation."
There was certainly no shortage of desire at Villa Park, where Chelsea's dramatic win came at a high price. John Terry was taken off on a stretcher after injuring an ankle and Eden Hazard, who has been one of Chelsea's most influential players this season, pulled a hamstring in stoppage time.
It is highly unlikely either will be fit to play against Benfica in the Europa League final, when Benítez must decide whether to find a place in his starting lineup for Frank Lampard.
On this evidence it is difficult to see how Lampard, who has not been a mandatory pick under Benítez, can be overlooked. With two goals in the second half, the 34-year-old became Chelsea's all-time leading scorer, surpassing Bobby Tambling's record of 202 goals for the club. It is an astonishing achievement by a midfielder and was recognised by the Aston Villa supporters, who gave Lampard an ovation as he left the pitch at the end of a breathless encounter. "That was a real honour because it doesn't always happen that way," Lampard said.
With 15 league goals to his name this season in only 20 starts, it seems incredible that Chelsea's hierarchy are still undecided whether to give him a new contract or allow him to leave on a free transfer. "My eyes are very wide open," Lampard said. "I think the club are making the right decisions and I hope to stay. Simple as that. We've got two big games coming up. Nothing will happen in that period of time but at the end of those games I hope to sit down. That's my wish and I have made that very clear for a long time."
Villa still have their own future to worry about after a defeat that was hard to stomach. After going ahead as a result of Christian Benteke's fine goal and playing against 10 men after Ramires was sent off, Villa were in charge until their Belgium striker, who had been lucky to escape a straight red card for elbowing César Azpilicueta earlier in the game, was dismissed for a second booking. Benteke will now miss the final match at Wigan, where Villa's Premier League status will be on the line if Roberto Martínez's side beat Arsenal on Tuesday.
Man of the match Frank