There was a sense of ennui at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea toyed with Charlton Athletic in Saturday's first half. To Jose Mourinho's irritation, it spread to his players and almost cost the champions victory.
Ultimately, dogged defence and Charlton's own inadequacies secured a ninth successive home win and thoughts turned to the more engrossing challenge ahead. To some of the Chelsea hierarchy, the Premiership appears to be a given. They trail Manchester United at present but their quality and strength in depth would seem to make a third successive title inevitable. That is unless Mourinho implodes, or the squad solidarity dissolves under the pressure of all those egos.
This could happen under the pressure of chasing the Champions' League. Michael Ballack, Andrei Shevchenko and Ashley Cole have not been hired to defeat Charlton et al, they have been recruited to conquer Europe. The campaign begins tomorrow, when Werder Bremen, an unheralded but useful German team, visit west London.
"The ambition here is to win the Champions' League," admitted Ballack after 90 minutes' strolling classily around the midfield. "We know how difficult that is. But it is not just about two or three new players. We have strengthened since last season but so have teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Milan."
Ballack, who was in the Bayer Leverkusen team beaten in the 2002 final by Real Madrid, added: "Even if you are a good team it doesn't guarantee things will click and you will have success. You can't just say 'Oh we are going to reach the final', but if I didn't think Chelsea were strong enough to win the competition I wouldn't have moved here."
The consequences of his arrival are still being worked through. On Saturday Mourinho deployed Ballack and Frank Lampard ahead of Michael Essien, with Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right flank. Essien was outstanding and Ballack authoritative but Wright-Phillips faded and Lampard had another quiet game, highlighted when Scott Carson saved a penalty from him, his third miss in four attempts.
Ballack is a penalty-taker, with either foot, and having usurped Lampard's status as the main man in midfield, may also assume his penalty-taking duties. He said: "Maybe I will take the next penalty, because Frank did not score today, but I am not a player who needs to always take every free-kick or penalty. Frank is a top player here. He took the penalties last year, so maybe we will take turns in the future." Depending on which wingers are available, and what formation Mourinho deploys, Essien may retain his place when Claude Makelele returns tomorrow. In the long term, however, he appears the most vulnerable of Chelsea's stellar midfielders, which seems harsh given that his form, in the World Cup and this season, is much better than Lampard's.
Mourinho insisted Lampard was undroppable. "For me he plays, always. All his performances this season have been positive." There is a perversity about the Portuguese which suggests he may keep playing Lampard merely because everyone is suggesting he needs a rest. Or he could be telling porkies. Very little at Chelsea these days can be taken at face value, witness the team picture in Saturday's programme which appears to have had Ashley Cole added to it by a piece of digital wizardry.
The real-life Cole joined the action with Chelsea labouring to complete a victory which looked a formality when Didier Drogba drove in a loose ball following an early corner. Drogba then missed a series of chances before Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was allowed to remind Chelsea of the finishing qualities they discarded with a neat equaliser.
Ricardo Carvalho was at fault for that goal but he quickly made amends. His header from Lampard's corner would have been saved by Carson had it not skimmed Amady Faye's scalp but, once again with Chelsea, it was the end that mattered, not the means.
Goals: Drogba (6) 1-0; Hasselbaink (54) 1-1; Ricardo Carvalho (63) 2-1.
Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Boulahrouz, Ricardo Carvalho, Terry, Bridge (A Cole, 62); Essien; Wright-Phillips (Kalou, 61), Ballack, Lampard; Shevchenko (Mikel, 86), Drogba. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Geremi.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Carson; Young, El Karkouri, Diawara (M Bent, 64), Traoré (Kishishev, 49); Ambrose, Faye, Hughes, Reid (Rommedahl, 30); Hasselbaink, D Bent. Substitutes not used: Myhre (gk), Holland.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Chelsea Ballack, Ricardo Carvalho; Charlton Athletic Faye.
Man of the match: Essien.
Attendance: 41,194.Reuse content