THE love-in has been deep, the reconnection between team and support has been palpable.
But for all the hearts and flowers, Frank Lampard’s Chelsea needed a first cast-iron achievement – and last night it was delivered.
Advancing to the Champions League knock-out stages from a testing group is a decent feat to chalk up – even though this clinching victory was a stroll in a rain-lashed park for long periods.
The Blues got plenty of help from a lilly-livered Lille, who rested most of their best players and barely looked interested before a late rally brought them a goal through former Chelsea man Loic Remy.
But first-half strikes from Tammy Abraham and Cesar Azpilicueta were enough to see the Blues through as Group H runners-up.
It is five years since Chelsea last reached a Champions League quarter-final but they are now just one tie away – and they head into Monday’s last-16 draw in good heart.
And now their transfer ban has been lifted, Lampard will doubtless be provided with reinforcements before the competition gets serious in February.
If recent defeats by struggling West Ham and Everton had felt like a reality check, this here was a reason for cheer.
All four Premier League clubs have reached the knock-outs.
And although none have been entirely untroubled, the muscle of English clubs has been well and truly flexed in the last couple of seasons, following last years Liverpool-Tottenham final.
This group-stage campaign had been a coming-of-age process for some of Lampard’s kids.
The Blues began it with a home defeat by Valencia but have since emerged with credit from the reverse fixture and back-to-back matches against Ajax.
But when it came to this crunch fixture, Lampard opted for a more experienced starting line-up than usual.
It was a cautious one too, as he dropped Mason Mount and opted for a defensively-minded midfield three of N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Matteo Kovacic, who controlled proceedings with easy poise.
In truth, he needn’t have been so shy.
Chelsea were boosted by Lille – already with no chance of European football after Christmas – choosing to leave out several first-teamers, including leading scorer and Tottenham target Victor Osimhen.
Although the French club’s supporters had travelled in number, and in good voice, for this Eurostar derby. Their enthusiasm was rarely matched by their team.
In teeming rain, Chelsea dominated possession from the off and carved out three clear chances before Abraham’s 19th-minute opener.
Christian Pulisic dragged one wide across goal, Emerson’s volley forced an instinctive save from Mike Maignan and then N’Golo Kante drilled a shot narrowly wide.
It was entirely predictable that Chelsea should force an opener.
Pulisic made a darting crossfield run, Willian scuttled past his man and cut back for Abraham to score an artful little side-footed tap-in.
For the first hour, was all too obvious that this was a dead rubber for Lille, who were showing precious little endeavour.
Remy was seeing very little of the ball as the Blues pinged it about like a training session.
And on a rare occasion when Remy got a sniff in the first half, Antonio Rudiger was at hand with a muscular challenge – the German international’s return from injury has made a real difference to a back line which has been vulnerable.
They were singing Lampard’s name in the Matthew Harding Stand and, after their implosion at Goodison Park on Saturday, all seemed right again in Chelsea’s world.
Pulisic, who has got more than a little of Eden Hazard about him, went on a slalom down the left, to force a corner on 35 minutes.
And from the dead ball, it was Chelsea’s full-backs who combined to put the result beyond all reasonable doubt.
Emerson swung in the centre and skipper Azpilicueta flicked home a near-post header.
Champions League fixtures are rarely as easy as this seemed in the first half, Lille lacking shape in defence or purpose in attack.
Straight after the break, Pulisic and Willian asked decent saves from Maignan – then the keeper was busy again to keep out a Willian free-kick.
This was a do-or-die clash for Chelsea, as Lampard had stated, and they almost chose a kamikaze death in the final 15 minutes, much to the obvious anger of their manager.
Callum Hudson-Odoi was sent on soon after the hour to allow Pulisic a breather, with Abraham soon making way for Michy Batshuayi.
Kurt Zouma did have to make one classy saving tackle to deny Luiz Araujo a sight at goal as Lille broke swiftly.
Lille improved in the final quarter, though, and 12 minutes from time they gained a toehold, when Jonathan NBamba drove down the left and cut back for Remy, who hammered home off the underside of the crossbar.
Lampard kicked the dugout wall in frustration as Chelsea were somehow contriving to make hard work of what had seemed a formality for so long.
They still have much to learn, yet making the knock-out stages of the Champions League is nothing to be sniffed at.