The downbeat managerial mood offered at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night by Roberto Di Matteo, on virtually the eve of an FA Cup final, said it all about Chelsea's attitude to the Champions League.
Chelsea must now either win the European Cup in Munich or fail to qualify for the competition next season. Roman Abramovich can surely not envisage walking away from English football without achieving the dream he has spent £1bn on. But if Di Matteo's men cannot now find new life in their battered, bruised and – on the evidence of that 2-0 defeat by Newcastle – beaten pool of players, then next season will offer only the kind of abyss which the Russian owner could not possibly have imagined.
Abramovich has not spent to idle down to the Bridge on a Thursday night to a half-full ground to face a team he may never have heard of. Given that prospect, and with not the slightest guarantee of continued employment, Di Matteo, pictured, must somehow pull a performance from the fire of a season of potential disaster on 19 May.
Chelsea will surely fail to finish in the top four for the first time in a decade this season. Nine years of continued success like that can breed complacency and perhaps there is a barb in Arsène Wenger's repetition of the number of times Arsenal have reached the Champions League under his leadership (14), and for a fraction of the outlay, with a far more luxurious style.
Bravery, experience and the DNA of a football club (plus a fair amount of woodwork against Barcelona) have carried Chelsea to this final, and somehow those factors must rise once more to see off a refreshed home side.
Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Juan Mata were called from the bench on Wednesday evening, but were tired men – tired of playing most probably, nine times in 29 days, enough to stretch any player or manager.
To galvanise for an FA Cup final tomorrow is one thing, against a Liverpool side also emerging from a disappointing league campaign, but where does it rank with the power men at Chelsea compared to the other final? That is where the real tears will flow, either in exhausted joy or bitter failure.
As Jon Obi Mikel said yesterday: "The European Cup is what everyone wants, what the fans want and what we really want." And then he added: "But we have to make sure we win the Cup final on Saturday. We can't let that pass us by."
- More about:
- Chelsea F.c.
- Fc Barcelona
- Frank Lampard
- Liverpool FC
- Premier League
- UEFA Champions League