When the final whistle blew on Chelsea’s Champions League journey on Wednesday night, there was an air of disappointment around Stamford Bridge. Only eight months after the greatest night in the club’s history, which left the Blues in dreamland, it all came to a sudden halt as Chelsea became the first holders to be knocked out at the group stage.
On the face of it the night was a good one with a 6-1 mauling of FC Norjaelland, which was also Rafael Benitez’s first win as Chelsea boss, and a first brace since March for misfiring Fernando Torres. It’s a night however that will be remembered for the negatives, which are that with their Group E exit, the Blues must now come to terms that times are changing for the European Champions.
Group E was a tough one, and similarly to Manchester City, Chelsea were accompanied by two domestic champions in Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk. The presence of FC Norjaelland made this group arguably more difficult than City’s, as three teams shared all points available, whereas the Premier League champion’s group contained teams that were sure to take points off each other. It turned out to be just a little too difficult for Chelsea in the end.
With every up in football there are downs, but what determines greatness is the ability to bounce back. It’s clearly not the end of the world for Chelsea with this setback, as history can vouch that top sides do suffer disappointments from time to time. Manchester United were knocked out at the same stage last season in a group that wasn’t nearly as competitive as Chelsea’s. Yet it was widely believed that that wouldn’t play a big part in United’s future and their renowned consistency at the top of world football would return, and sure it did.
Chelsea however are relatively new to success, and for many reasons – the main one being the indecisiveness of the owner – the same confidence is not the main feeling about arguably London’s top side. The Blues really are entering the unknown from here onwards, for when European competition returns they will be playing Thursdays and Sundays, which is a shake up from the norm at Stamford Bridge. While unlike last season, Chelsea’s focus will now be on finishing in the top four to qualify for next season’s Champions League. There will be no reprieve this year.
Every sports team will come to a crossroad and Chelsea are at theirs. Since that night in Munich it has been one reality check after another for a team that finds itself deep in transition. But with only one trophyless season since the Russian billionaire set sights on a West London revolution, it will be harder than ever for the fans to see their club go through hard times.
The talent at Chelsea is outstanding, and with that in mind there is certainly light at the end of a possibly long and arduous tunnel. But should everyone stick together, the hope is that the next parts to come are as pain-free as possible.
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