Tough loss for Chelsea on Wednesday. The disappointment is palpable, perhaps due to the inevitability of the outcome more so than anything else. In a season where Chelsea have been barely better than mid-table, could we possibly, realistically expect anything more than just to keep it close and hang with one of the best teams in Europe?
That's not to say that Chelsea didn't have a chance. The 2-1 in the first leg left the door open, and when it was still 1-1 and Chelsea were pressing high and winning the ball back and creating chances, with the full voice of Stamford Bridge behind them, there was hope. It all changed in one instant, on a lethal counter by the visitors. It's a concept not that unfamiliar -- Chelsea teams of yore would often win games thanks to crucially timed lethal movements -- but this time, we were on the receiving end.
"We were too respectful [at the start] but later on, at 1-0 down, we lost that wrong respect and we tried to defend more forcefully, we won duels and we got a deserved equaliser. There were chances both ways after that in the first half. In the second half we pushed, we tried to make it 2-1. We had chances to score in the 65th minute, we didn't do so and in the 67th minute with a little attack they killed the game."
The goal meant that Chelsea would have had to score three in 23 minutes, and while nothing is impossible, the game was effectively done and dusted at that point. We went through the motions, but there was no real belief. Costa's and Hazard's injuries just added to the misery. The former was apparently a doubt to begin with, while Hazard* was already limping by the time everything came crashing down halfway through the second half.
"We will see if there is big damage tomorrow. Hazard has a little problem with his latest hip injury. Diego was desperate to play today although he was not 100 per cent fit. He was desperate. I don't know if that has become worse, we will see. I hope it isn't worse than before the Stoke game, because in two days we will have to play another game."
Hiddink did find time to specifically praise Kenedy, who was starting yet again at left back ( ("he did a terrific job"), but it's hard to have full confidence in the squad at the moment not just for this season (and the Everton match this weekend specifically), but for the season ahead. What happens next, no one knows, but for sure it will be a scary, exciting, intriguing time.
"In my opinion, Chelsea are now in a transitional period from where they have to see how to go on, and to try to regain the lost terrain where Chelsea used to be. That's true. It's difficult to get in to fourth position, there is a very big gap. Chelsea must consider its short-term future on how to handle this, but they knew that beforehand."
-Guus Hiddink; source: Chelsea FC
Chelsea are set to miss out on Champions League football for the first time in a decade and a half. Having that extended to a multi-year absence could be devastating.
* Yes, Hazard swapped shirts with Di Maria at half-time. This means absolutely nothing. Players do this all the time. This is a non-issue, or, at the least, the smallest, least significant issue that we should be worried about.