Chelsea had an air of invincibility when what was seen as a successful transfer window followed an unprecedented Champions League triumph last year.
A challenge for the Premier League title was expected and a tilt towards hosting the European Cup was anticipated. Ultimately, it looks like neither activity will go as long as expected at the end of the season.
The Blues have been existing in a strange limbo nationally between the top two and the chasing pack, with little chance of being caught or caught up. In Europe, they made light work of Lille in the Champions League round of 16, and a quarter-final tie against a much-improved Real Madrid was eagerly anticipated despite being an unknown quantity.
All this, of course, occurred against the background of the sanctions imposed on the club’s owner Roman Abramovich and subsequently the prolonged takeover, which does not yet have a clear outcome.
However, while Chelsea have been unflinching during this period of great turmoil, the consecutive defeats in which they have conceded Seven the times now threaten to derail them as the season winds down.
After a 4-1 thrashing at home to Brentford on Saturday gave Tottenham and others a chance to close the gap on them, Thomas Tuchel’s side were overtaken by a resurgent Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge four days later when Karim Benzema’s hat-trick left their hopes. to retain his European title hanging by a thread.
It was a game in which Chelsea dominated possession for long stretches, but fell victim to a much more clinical opponent with an eyeless striker at the front of the line. Uncharacteristic mistakes crept into his game too, with goalkeeper Edouard Mendy the biggest offender of the night, essentially crediting himself with the assist for Benzema’s hat-trick.
While that strike served as a sucker punch after Kai Havertz’s fine header had carried Chelsea back into the tie, it had still been a naive performance in which the Blues’ former airtight defense was reminiscent of a broken dam. .
Indeed, speaking after the match, it was apparent that a dejected Tuchel had barely acknowledged his own team during the harrowing 180 minutes of football at Stamford Bridge.
“We have to get our level back,” he said. “I don’t know where he is since the international break. The first half was a repeat of the second half against Brentford.
“If we keep playing like this, we lose at Southampton and then they beat us at the Bernabeu.”
He continued: “It’s a huge loss. It was one of the worst first halves I’ve ever seen at Stamford Bridge. You can’t play like that. Far, far, far from our standards.”
Tuchel’s task now is to quickly reconcile and stabilize the ship. While unlikely, a turnaround at the Bernabéu in next week’s second leg is not out of the question – a two-goal win would force penalties – and Chelsea are well on their way to a third-place finish, which has become the minimum. requirement after their title challenge ended during a winter of discontent.
Should they drop out of the Champions League and this indifferent form becomes more long-term, then the chasing group could cause them some serious problems in the encounter and Tuchel’s future may suddenly be less certain than ever.
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