LONDON (Reuters) - Before the last strands of blue ticker tape were being swept from the Stamford Bridge pitch on Sunday, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho would have cast his mind forward to the task of retaining the Premier League title.
Even the club's most blinkered critics could not argue that Mourinho's side were unworthy champions.
The 1-0 win over Crystal Palace secured Mourinho's third league title for Chelsea, following the back-to-back triumphs he masterminded during his first spell in charge of the west Londoners when his tactical nous and owner Roman Abramovich's money proved an irresistible mix.
In 2004-5, he moulded Chelsea into champions for the first time in half a century and he followed up the following season with another title-winning campaign.
Manchester United responded to win it for the next three years, but no club has retained it since 2009.
The reasons are numerous.
Manchester City's rise has enriched the mixture at the top, the huge TV incomes distributed throughout the top flight mean all clubs can sign world class talent, while the sheer demands of the English game make a defence a daunting task.
In the days leading up to Chelsea's coronation on Sunday, Mourinho claimed any celebrations would be as "quick as a flash" and "five minutes later I move on. I have to think about next season, to prepare."
The serial trophy-gatherer continued the theme once the job was done on Sunday, eluding to the fact that next season will be an even bigger challenge for his youthful squad.
"This group has now started by winning the League Cup and the Premier League but we know it is very difficult and every other team that is a normal candidate will come even stronger," the Portuguese warned.
"This is not the best country to be a force to dominate football but obviously we are going to try to be there in the top of the league and try to win again."
Deposed champions Manchester City face a summer of soul searching after a desperately disappointing season for Manuel Pellegrini's side, with substantial investment expected to revamp an ageing squad.
Likewise, Louis van Gaal's Manchester United will strengthen and Arsenal, the form team of the past three months, are well-placed to add a couple of key signings.
Yet Chelsea look capable of beginning a period of sustained domestic dominance.
The average age of their squad is 26.9 -- with most of their key players in or approaching their prime years.
Skipper John Terry, 34, is the exception but since Mourinho returned to Chelsea he has looked fitter and quicker than at any time during the last 10 years and he played every minute of every league game this season -- a remarkable achievement.
Leading striker Diego Costa is 26, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is 22, midfield orchestrator Cesc Fabregas is 28, holding midfielder Nemanja Matic is 26 and Terry's defensive partner Gary Cahill is 29 and clearly still improving.
With the energetic Willian still only 26 and the dazzling Eden Hazard a relative pup at 24, the framework of Chelsea's side looks guaranteed for several seasons.
The club's under 19s won the Uefa Youth League so it would be no surprise to see a few homegrown talents being fed through to the first team next season either.
Mourinho, like former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, knows that standing still is fatal.
That is why a couple of marquee signings will be surely heading for Stamford Bridge this summer to bolster Mourinho's ambition of taking Chelsea to the next level and challenging the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in next season's Champions League.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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