Two old foes did for Chelsea, and they can have few complaints as Roman Abramovich’s desperate pursuit of the Champions League must wait for at least another year.
Coming away from the San Siro with a one goal deficit and armed with an away goal, Chelsea’s task to progress was far from insurmountable, yet upon reflection, with at least one goal needed, even the most ardent Blues fan would struggle to suggest a moment when Julio Cesar’s goal was bound to be breached. With the exception of a ten minute spell just before half-time, in which the Inter rearguard produced a series of flailing blocks, Chelsea never looked likely to penetrate a resolute and organised side. There may be a few half-hearted suggestions about penalties for man-handling in the box, but overall, the Blues can have no complaints.
They were supposed to be the dominant force, from a dominant league, but over two legs the meek inferiors proved to be the superiors. It’s hard to avoid being drawn into the Jose Mourinho hyperbole, but last night he gave a masterclass in how to defend a lead away from home. Deploying an advanced front three to negate Chelsea’s full-back’s worked as planned, as the clueless Premier League outfit tried in vain for ninety minutes to barge their way through an equally masculine back-line – when brawn is dealt with, where are the brains? For all the tactical tit-for-tat, the bare bones of it were simple. Inter were required to sit tight and break when necessary, the onus on the home side to reinforce their perceived quality. Only one of those scenarios prevailed. The Nerazzurri diligently and dangerously went about their task, Chelsea, did nothing of the sort. The hosts failed to blow their visitors away with a brisk start, a concerted push, or a desperate charge – the brutal truth of it was, Chelsea were contained with ease.
In Wesley Sneijder the Italian champions possessed a weapon Chelsea were clearly lacking, the home side’s own talented attackers were under-employed as they toiled to make any inroads into a side who have desperately under-achieved in this competition. How far Mourinho’s side will go waits to be seen, but for a side who perennially exit the competition upon meeting one of the big boys from either Spain or England, this was a night where they finally announced themselves as a European force. A week previous Manchester United demonstrated how to dispose of one of Serie A’s Milan giants, yet Chelsea took on-board no lessons of how to exert their own supremacy. The play was too slow, laboured and predictable, and essentially not good enough, as the encounter unwound, the goal threat only intensified from one team.
The post-mortem from the Londoners will run long and deep. Questions about the personnel both on and off-field will be pertinent, the fact that seven of the starting outfield ten were leftover from Mourinho’s reign suggests Chelsea have progressed little since the Portuguese left SW6. However, progression will have to be judged over a longer context than this elimination. Analysis will be forthcoming, the immediate suggestions were that Chelsea were out-played, out-fought and out-thought. And even more simply – out.