Smell that, Diego? That, my bellicose friend, is the stench of failure. The fresh stench of failure, might I add. Chelsea took the trip to the Britannia Stadium for the second time in a fortnight and came away empty-handed once more. This time no penalty shoot-out was required!
It's difficult not to be disheartened by the past few Premier League games, and this might have been the most disheartening of all. Because -- and I'm sure everyone is very bored of hearing this by now -- the Blues played reasonably well and had nothing to show for it regardless.
A potential equaliser hit the post; a penalty and red card so obvious that the PGMOL commented on it mid-match was ignored. But neither was surprising. The aura of invincibility has turned into a farcical cavalcade of bad decisions and bad luck, and while you can argue Chelsea deserved more from the match, it's undeniable that winning teams take those setbacks in their stride.
This team does not, so unfortunate things happen to it.
The most unfortunate thing that happened was Xherdan Shaqiri against Baba Rahman. Rahman, for so long the great hope of Chelsea fans back in the good old days when everything was Branislav Ivanovic's fault, had probably his best showing on Wednesday against Dynamo Kiev, but Shaqiri tore him into a fine mist. It was as brutal a showing one on one as a fullback's ever likely to produce, and the only thing that saved us in the first half was that the Blues managed to hold possession long enough that Shaqiri simply didn't have that many opportunities to drive forward.
Left flank aside, we had mostly smooth sailing before the break. Asmir Begovic was forced into a smart stop from a Glen Johnson shot early on (Rahman and Nemanja Matic conveniently opened a gap for Bojan to thread a terrific pass into the area), but the play was mostly tilted at Jack Butland's goal. Butland is an excellent keeper, and showed it in tipping Ramires' dipping drive over the crossbar and sweeping away a goalbound shot from Costa with his feet.
Those were Chelsea's two best chances of the half, which considering the possession and penetration the team was generating, simply wasn't good enough. Time and again the final ball was mis-hit, and although the poor-but-completed passes won't show up on the statistics, they had a way of breaking up the momentum of our moves before we could really get at the Stoke back line.
At halftime, the coaches had two decisions to make. Could Willian, who seemed to have picked up a groin problem during injury time, stay on? Would they spare Rahman's blushes against a certain Swiss menace after he picked up a booking in the 45th minute? The answer to both questions was no.
Naturally Stoke then scored from an attack down our left. Shaqiri's pass was excellent, splitting the flat-footed Rahman and the slow-footed John Terry, and while Glen Johnson's delivery wasn't the best, Kurt Zouma wasn't ready for it. What could have been a straightforward clearance became a downright scramble, leaving Marko Arnautovic to acrobatically volley home.
Yeah, we've seen this script before. Chelsea, who'd been typically listless after the interval bar Pedro hitting the post with a delightful curler, went all-out shortly thereafter, adding Cesc Fabregas and Oscar to the fray. Fabregas injected the team with some much-needed urgency, driving play forward, but even with everyone pushing up the pitch we couldn't penetrate the Stoke defence.
Well, couldn't penetrate it more than twice.
The first was probably our fault. A beautiful, flowing move saw Costa, Oscar and Fabregas to set up Eden Hazard * on the left, but his shot took a nick off a defender's book and skidded agonisingly wide of the far post.
*Who, it should be noted, seems to be waking up from his hibernation at last.
No complaints there, obviously. Chelsea had a chance and missed it. Those things happen. The second time, however ... we'll be hearing about the second time again. Loïc Rémy, on as a substitute for Ramires, found himself clear through after a smart touch by Costa. Butland flew off his line, Rémy touched the ball around him, made a quite brilliant hurdle, then stumbled on landing and couldn't sweep into the unguarded goal.
The replays showed Rémy was untouched. That probably doesn't matter. Butland had forced him into evasive action to avoid a collision without making a play for the ball, and that action cost Rémy a chance at goal. That is, of course, the sort of foul that's never called, so it was to my great surprise that the commentator announced that the board of match officials had already passed judgement on what should have happened. Penalty. Red card.
Since we live in a world of dids rather than should, that's scant consolation. Rémy's moment turned out to be the best chance of the second half, and although Oscar smacked a half-chance goalward from the edge of the box during stoppage time (Butland made a routine save), Chelsea would never seriously threaten again.
Eleven points. Twelve games. Joy.