There was a terrible time, barely remembered, lost in the foggy mists of the early days. It was time spoken of only in whispered rumours and half-true myths. It was a dark time, a time of pain, a time of chances spurred beyond counting. It was the time before Diego Costa came to Chelsea. Today we had a window back into the club's sordid past.
Barring the fact that we beat Schalke 04 home and away in the Champions League last season, this match felt like one straight out of the 2013/14 playbook*. There were half a dozen should-have-scoreds that Chelsea didn't, plenty more could-have-scoreds and a match that might have been put to bed before the hour mark was allowed to get out of hand and finish in a disappointing 1-1 draw. Fans are frustrated, and understandably so.
*Chelsea 1-2 Basel, perhaps? At least this result was an improvement on last year's opener.
The Blues got off to a bright start, easily bossing their under-the-weather guests and going ahead after ten minutes. Yes, there was probably a foul in the buildup when Cesc Fabregas went straight through the unfortunate Max Meyer, but the goal stood regardless, and it was a pretty one indeed. Edan Hazard did the damage, pulling the Schalke defence apart and setting up Fabregas with a deft backheel. The midfielder made no mistake in notching his first Chelsea goal, although Ralf Fährmann might feel he could have done better having got a hand to the shot.
Having established their lead, the Blues sleepwalked their way through the rest of the first half. Only Hazard seemed to have any interest in contributing to the match, and the Belgian was in scintillating form throughout, skipping past defenders as though they weren't there and forcing them into crude fouls to even slow him down.
That Chelsea were asleep is understandable -- Schalke posed zero real threat, and apart from a late Julian Draxler chance that trickled harmlessly past the post and a couple of long-rangers from Kevin-Prince Boateng, dealt with comfortably by Thibaut Courtois, they had no bite to them whatsoever, even in possession. But games like that tend have a bad habit of biting us eventually, and this one was no different.
By the time the visitors drew level, Chelsea had blown clear-cut chances from Fabregas (blazed over after being set up by Branislav Ivanovic with the goal at his mercy) and Didier Drogba (twice; once completely missing a tap-in from a fast-paced Willian cross and then rolling just wide of the post when one-on-one with Fährmann. The prospect of it all going wrong was obvious to more or less everyone, not least the constantly annoyed-looking Mourinho. And then it all went wrong.
Fabregas was caught in possession upfield by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. It was probably a foul, but then again our goal probably came from a foul too, and turnabout is fair play. With everyone out of position, the striker immediately launched a sycthing counterattack, passing to Draxler, receiving the return, and rolling past the utterly helpless Courtois to make it 1-1.
Mourinho waited another 10 minutes to react, eventually deploying Loïc Rémy and Diego Costa in a bid to retrieve the missing points, and on another day it might have worked. The former saw a vicious shot cleared off the line by Roman Neustädter seconds after taking the field, a save I don't imagine the centre back knew much about. Then Hazard blew a pair of chances, one a volley he blazed over and the other a flying toe-poke from a sublime
Oscar Fabregas chip that didn't have enough power to beat Fährmann.
Chelsea were by now -- and this is being charitable -- incoherently flying forward. Any pretence of a well-work attack had vanished in favour of throwing the kitchen sink at their guests, which led to the Blues getting nowhere against a defence that had taken some real heart from the equaliser. Predictably, the match petered out with barely a whimper from our end.
The draw is frustrating, and raises now-familiar questions over what's going on in our midfield. Nemanja Matic seems compromised no matter what formation he's being deployed in, and the lack of a shield combined with overall aggressive play is badly exposing both John Terry and Gary Cahill.
That said, on a different day Chelsea demolish Schalke here. I'm not going to argue that we 'deserved' a win -- you deserve the goals you score, barring horrible refereeing -- but blowing a half-dozen must-score chances simply isn't going to happen that often with this team, especially in big matches with Costa starting.
And with Sporting Lisbon drawing at Maribor, an opening-round draw probably won't cost us too much in the group stages either. Annoyed? Yes. Cranky? Absolutely. Hopeful that our various issues get sorted out? Yep. But at the end of the day, this result is unlikely to matter too much.
Onwards. Upwards. Manchester City await.