Peter Bills: Chelsea's botched Italian job

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The Independent Football

Even in a city where ruins are an everyday sight, it would be absurdly premature to regard Chelsea's defeat to Roma as calamitous in the context of their Champions League ambitions this season.

Too soon altogether to talk of the London club's decline and fall, yet undeniably lessons will require to be learned if Roman Abramovitch’s legions are to march once again on the Eternal City for the Champions League final next May.

Whisper it among the fawning Chelsea followers but perhaps the man in need of most tutelage is Luis Felipe Scolari, hitherto a manager unable to do wrong in true blue eyes but on a wet Roman night, exposed in more senses than one.

Scolari's first tactical error came 24 hours before a ball was kicked at the Olympic Stadium. To talk publicly of booking the same hotel for the final which Chelsea were staying in for this group match, smacked of arrogance. If it was meant as a smooth comforter to his players that they are modern day footballing Gods of whom the likes of modest Roma could consider themselves lucky to be allowed on the same field, then it spectacularly misfired.

True, in the early stages, there had seemed such a flow to Chelsea's football that it seemed somehow appropriate in a city through which the majestic Tiber carries all before it.

But it was to prove merely the froth on the cappuccino; once removed, we saw a less enticing beverage. Three goals in rapid succession shortly before and then just after half time, two by Mirko Vucinic and the other by Christian Panucci, humbled the strolling Londoners. Roma's sudden renaissance merely emphasised that Chelsea must learn painful lessons, principally that they have not yet left the world of mortality.

To collapse in so complete a manner against a team 17th in Serie A which had not won for five games, must surely drag even Scolari back down to reality. Sensible men and teams with their heads at an altitude a little lower than where 747s fly, would have banished such premature thoughts from their minds, still less make them public.

Chelsea were embarrassed by their own words just as their ultimately modest and ineffective football humbled them in this famous stadium. Deco's dismissal capped a poor night for the joint Premiership leaders.

Nor could they offer in mitigation that this was a setback no-one could have foreseen. Liverpool's victory at Stamford Bridge suggested that Scolari's intended creation remained a work in process, rather than the finished product. Remember, too, the industry they had to demonstrate to break down struggling Roma at Stamford Bridge. The Italians that night looked neat and determined; all they lacked, it transpired, was a decent break.

For Chelsea apparently to so underestimate a major Italian team that was within a whisker of the Serie A title last season and still retains most of that side, represented a mistake of childish proportions. Talking up your team is commendable, but behind closed doors is the smart place to do it.

To poke insults, intended or otherwise, at your opponents a day before an important tie, was a misguided attempt at self confidence. Perhaps it has aided Scolari in his earlier career but in these circumstances and in what remains a highly competitive Champions League, it looked at best crass and naïve.

Somehow, you could not imagine so fundamental an error of judgement passing Sir Alex Ferguson's lips.

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