Where to begin? I suppose with the bare bones: Chelsea have been eliminated from the League Cup via the penalty shootout, with Eden Hazard -- slowly but surely transforming himself into the star of some Aeschylan tragedy -- missing the 10th and decisive spot kick.
Fair enough, you might say. The story of our season. And I suppose that's fair enough. Losing to Stoke at the Britannia is obviously bad, having our star attacker fluff his lines from the spot once more is also bad (although very fitting). But that would undersell just how interesting this match was.
The first 45 minutes were almost certainly the most impressive Chelsea have looked all year. With Willian, Oscar, Hazard and Diego Costa rekindling their love for playing something that looked like attacking football, Stoke were pushed back into their own half and held there. If not for Jack Butland, who came up with more good saves than I can remember, the Blues might have been 3-0 ahead at the break.
Instead, the score was level, and Jose Mourinho would have been the unhappier of the two managers going into halftime. The Potters employed Operation: Kick the [Sheep] Out of Everyone, attempting to maim Oscar via Phil Bardsley and then Costa via the vicious and uncontrollable elbows of Charlie Adam. Shortly after said elbows accidented their way into Costa's ribs, he was mysteriously forced off for Loïc Rémy, and some of the magic left.
Indeed, Stoke might have gone into the interval ahead thanks to a mixup in midfield while allowed Jon Walters to pick up the ball in the box. Asmir Begovic flew out to deny him then, but he could do nothing about the opening goal, which came from nowhere. Walters picked up the ball near the top of the box, saw Gary Cahill backing away as fast as his little legs could carry him and smashed in off the crossbar. It was a thing of painful beauty, and Chelsea were behind.
All that joyful first-half effort wasted, the Blues went back to the drawing board. As the second half progressed and Stoke dropped deeper and deeper without giving much up (Kurt Zouma did kiss the outside of the post after a quick free kick, but that was as good as it got), Mourinho began rolling the dice. On came Kenedy, who played three or four positions before the night was done. On came Bertrand Traore, who finished the evening with half a dozen shots despite being a substitute. And eventually the goal arrived when Zouma flicked on a corner and Rémy stabbed into the roof of the net. Ninety-one minutes had elapsed -- Chelsea had cut it very fine indeed.
Another boost was to arrive shortly thereafter when Bardsley attempted to add Kenedy to his collection of Chelsea players assaulted and received his second booking. Thanks to the equaliser, there was still half an hour left to play, leaving us with the bizarre spectacle of watching the hosts try to manage without a real right back while Chelsea jammed their multitude of attacking talent into the lineup.
Oscar ended up in central midfield with Kenedy at left back as the game-chasing 3-1-6 morphed back into a more restrained 4-2-3-1, but Stoke were still sitting back in numbers and daring the Blues to break them down. They nearly did several times over the course of extra time -- Willian thumped a stunner into the side netting, Traore had a shot stopped by Butland's despairing toe and Kenedy saw a last-minute winner which he knew very little about tipped just wide of the near post.
They were all pretty good, if we're being honest. Oscar's, Willian's, Rémy's, Zouma's, even Hazard's. But Stoke's were just as good, and with the season Hazard's having and the night Butland was having, the climax of this match was painfully obvious. A leap and an outstretched arm flicked the final effort over the top of the crossbar, consigning Chelsea to yet another loss.
But, for a while ... that was kind of fun, wasn't it?