For the first 20 minutes — or 30, if we want to be generous — on Saturday, Chelsea actually seemed up for the game, up for playing up to the level of the visitors who so desperately needed these three points to stay ahead in the race for the top four. That's not to say that it was high quality football from the Blues, but at least the effort was there. Perhaps if Costa's goal isn't called off for a marginal offside, the boys take heart and remain motivated throughout. But it wasn't and so they didn't. When Agüero scored the first of his three, heads dropped. When he scored his second early in the second half, they might as well have blown the final whistle.
On the one hand, it's tough to get too upset with this. Stamford Bridge itself seemed resigned to the drubbing that was about to be handed out by returning reject Kevin De Bruyne and his merry band of Champions League semifinalists. It's been a long, arduous, and emotional season; I know I have very little left to give in terms of proper, full-hearted support for the boys in blue. Five more games to slog through; five very, very long games at this rate.
On the other hand, the concept of professional pride, of pride in the shirt, of pride in front of the home fans should be a valid construct even in this modern era of big money football-mercenaries. Cahill's strong words after the match would indicate that I'm not alone in thinking that this is still something that can be considered this season. Interim manager Guus Hiddink, who probably has less actual motivation than even the players, is a bit more understanding of the situation.
"Partly true [that some are preserving themselves for the Euros], but I cannot blame the players for having a lack of attitude."
"Some players might think that, but I cannot look into their minds, in their brains. They might be thinking of the Euros. When there is nothing at stake then with some people there is a little bit of a lack of the ultimate work."
-Guus Hiddink; source: FourFourTwo
While I'm not completely sure that was a factor on Saturday — the players with Euro commitments who were playing included the Spanish quartet (Costa faded after a bright opening, but the rest seemed their usual selves, for better or worse), Gary Cahill (who was very bad), and Thibaut Courtois (who was very good) — but regardless, if this is what the manager perceives the situation to be, then these players should not be given starring roles the rest of the season.
"When it's responsible to do so, and I think it is, they can gather a lot of experience - but not all of them because it depends which experienced players we have available. In this game some players came in who haven't played for a few weeks, but nevertheless I have played, full-time or coming off the bench, some youngsters who have deserved to play."
"If you see Loftus-Cheek, he is playing and growing a bit. He can be even more dangerous, but it would be easy to not have him starting these games and bring him on for the last 20 minutes. In our situation, I think they must get some experience against big teams as well."
-Guus Hiddink; source: Chelsea FC
If the "experienced players" have already checked out for the season — and by Saturday's evidence, most of them have — then there's no reason not to continue playing the youngsters as much as possible. The stage is free; the results hardly matter. Let's get them out there.