Roma brushed Chelsea aside 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico to take charge of Group C in the Champions League.
Things started terribly for Chelsea, as they were behind inside 50 seconds in the Italian capital. Stephan el Shaarawy bounced towards a loose ball outside the Blues’ box, and unleashed an unstoppable volley into the top-left corner of Thibaut Courtois’ goal. The way he swept across the ball only exaggerated the immense skill. The former AC Milan winger had been key for Roma at the weekend, but this goal was a reminder of his talent on the biggest stage.
The Blues had their own opportunity even before the Italian had scored, but little of note came in the following 10 minutes. Antonio Conte had his side set up for the counter, and Roma were willing to dominate possession. The Serie A side were quick to transition defensively, crowding out Eden Hazard and Pedro in the early moments.
Chelsea did manage to build some pressure around the halfway mark of the first-half. Chances were still hard to come by, though the Blues were pinging the ball around the Roma half. Alvaro Morata struggled to get in the game, however, and missed a clear chance.
Roma wrestled their way back to control the match again around the half-hour. Another defensive Chelsea mistake soon cost them another goal. Antonio Rudiger let an optimistic pass run down the middle of the defence, and el Shaarawy again punished the Blues. The ball bobbled past the rushing Courtois, with Rudiger left static having gifted a two-goal lead to his former club.
With the stadium bellowing, and Chelsea unable to get possession, Chelsea had an even greater problem. Cesar Azpilicueta – who almost never misses a match – picked up an injury. While a substitution was briefly likely, the Spaniard continued, and the Blues managed to avoid any further damage before the half-time whistle.
Even after 15 minutes with a visibly frustrated Conte, Chelsea were passive. The passing was sluggish and ineffective, and Roma were still picking holes in the defence on almost every possession. Morata was – as has been the case of late – unable to make the ball stick.
At two goals down, Conte had little choice but to bring on an attack-minded player. His man of choice was Willian, who came on for Gary Cahill. A change of shape was still not forthcoming, however, with Pedro dropping to wing-back.
The match opened up even more as a result. Chelsea’s defence was almost without protection, but the Blues were still without guile in the final third. A Morata shot was as close as Chelsea came before the supposedly significant 60 appeared on the clock.
Diego Perotti had tormented Chelsea just as he had a fortnight ago. The Argentine eventually sealed the three points for Roma as he checked inside from the left flank and fired a right-footed, driven shot past Courtois. A sweet strike, but one that the Belgian could perhaps have saved. That, though, was symbolic of a catastrophic defensive performance.
The back three was soon humiliated again. When Edin Dzeko squared the ball, Perotti skied a first-time shot, and the Blues were clinging on to avoid embarrassment.
Danny Drinkwater then appeared from the Chelsea bench, as the summer signing continues to work towards full match fitness. An underwhelming signing, that reflects many of the problems now facing Conte.
The eventual substituting of Morata in the 75th minute for Michy Batshuayi was the beginning of the winding down of the match. Gerson was brought on by the hosts for some more Champions League experience, and Kostas Manolas arrived as a defensive reinforcement.
Chelsea were lucky it ended at only a three-goal deficit. The failure to add depth in the summer is already evident, and the team, as a whole and individuals, are below par at both ends of the pitch. Atletico Madrid’s draw with Qarabag in the Spanish capital is the only positive from a torrid Tuesday night for the Blues.
This was a match every bit as poor as the 2012 defeat to Napoli. The result will not trigger a managerial change, but the predictability of the performance is significant. Chelsea are still in a decent position in the Champions League, yet Conte is a man under severe pressure to navigate away from another mid-season crisis at Stamford Bridge.