Cold reality bites as Chelsea are condemned to Europa League

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The Independent Online

From the glory of Munich in May to Thursday nights on ITV4 – you can only hope that the skipper of Roman Abramovich's favourite yacht has that particular channel tuned in on his boss' satellite equipment.

Last night the champions of Europe finally found their stride in the competition they won less than seven months ago, but even with six goals this was still a party that the home crowd left contemplating an unfamiliar second half of the season. Welcome, Chelsea, to the unloved backwater of the Europa League.

As the goals went in at Stamford Bridge – with two of them for Fernando Torres – the only one that really mattered was Oleksandr Kucher's own goal that gave Juventus victory over Shakhtar Donetsk and meant the Italians won the group and took the other qualification place.

Never in any of their 10 previous campaigns have Chelsea failed to make it out the group stages of the Champions League. They hardly need reminding that no defending champion has ever failed to make it out of the group stages. Yet for Rafael Benitez, below, this was a problem he inherited. The interim manager was just picking up the pieces and last night he at last got his first win in four games in charge, albeit not the dream escape he was hoping for.

How Abramovich deals with it is another matter. In some respects it is better that the club get this out the way. It has been hanging over them since the defeat to Juventus in Turin and Roberto Di Matteo's subsequent sacking. The key now will be to qualify next season.

Otherwise last night, the other talking point was the Dutch referee Bas Nijhuis, who, with his winter tan and slicked back hair, got himself in rather a pickle in the first half, awarding three penalties for handball. Two of them were missed, including the first to Nordsjaelland, although in the end it was not even close.

After David Luiz had made up for Eden Hazard's miss, it was all pretty much one-way traffic. Torres finally ended his long search for a goal and even though the Danes pulled one back within 20 seconds of the start of the second half, further strikes from Gary Cahill, a second from Torres, Juan Mata and Oscar wrapped up an easy victory.

But the champions are out, and how they respond will dictate how long Benitez lasts in this job.