Humbled Chelsea count £10m cost of 'slight setback'

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The Independent Football

New manager Ranieri left hoping his charges will have the character to rise from the despair of Uefa Cup defeat.

New manager Ranieri left hoping his charges will have the character to rise from the despair of Uefa Cup defeat.

While Switzerland's newspapers were heralding St Gallen's Uefa Cup 2-1 first-round aggregate win over Chelsea as the biggest in their history yesterday morning, the Londoners were waking up to the realisation that their chances of qualifying for European football next season are rapidly diminishing.

For Roberto Di Matteo, waking up in a Swiss hospital with a fracture to his left leg, the situation was even more dire. He is likely to be out for some months. Not that anyone in the country of his birth seemed unduly concerned.

"EuroCup Power" said one headline in Zurich, while another read: "The men from St Gallen's masterstroke." Even the staid Tages Anzeiger topped its article with the heading: "One famous result over Chelsea means progress in the Uefa Cup - the biggest result in Swiss sport."

Martina Hingis, the world No 1 women's tennis player who was in the stands on Thursday draped in a green St Gallen scarf, might argue that her five grand slam titles had been big results for Swiss sport, but provincial football in her country holds a special place in people's hearts. "In Zurich there's plenty to do and football is not a main interest," said one taxi driver yesterday. "In towns like St Gallen, it is the main interest. No one was expecting to win so now it will be even bigger."

At Chelsea, expectation is sky high, not least among a board that has invested tens of millions in players and hired a new coach, Claudio Ranieri, with a brief of bringing success on Europe's biggest stages. Thursday's result, which Ranieri called a "a slight setback", will be an interesting test of everyone's resolve.

The financial cost alone of elimination from the Uefa Cup (up to £10m from a successful campaign) is bad enough, but whether Chelsea have a realistic chance of getting into Europe next season must now be called into question. Already off the pace in the Premiership - six points from seven games - they face Liverpool tomorrow. Another meeting with the Merseysiders in the Worthington Cup is hardly a tie for them to relish.

"I've worked hard and hope it will come right," Ranieri said on Thursday, but he knows that it might take more than this season to turn things around. Asked if his side can still challenge for the Premiership, he refrained from a straight "Yes" and erred on the side of caution. "We have to review the situation and look to the future."

So where did Chelsea go wrong in Zurich? "They played like a troubled team," was the appraisal of St Gallen's Ghanaian striker, Charles Amoah. "I think that Chelsea underestimated us," added his coach, Marcel Koller. "And we knew that Marcel Desailly was injured and that Winston Bogarde [Desailly's replacement] had only had about 10 minutes practice." Succinct analysis, but some way to the truth. Bogarde must take some of the blame for both the St Gallen goals, as must Christian Panucci, who scored at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago but was so ineffective on Thursday he was substituted. Amoah ran almost at will down the flanks and into the box to set up Sashcha Müller for the first goal and to poach the second himself. Graeme Le Saux and Frank Leboeuf played adequately without shining but they alone cannot make a defence. In midfield, Gustavo Poyet, out with a long-term injury, is still desperately missed. On Thursday, with no Dennis Wise (still recovering from a chest infection) and with Di Matteo's injury, there was further disruption. In attack, none of the Chelsea players, perhaps bar Gianfranco Zola, made any significant chances or took them. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink could argue that playing alone ahead of Zola and Tore Andre Flo left him at their mercy for service, but Flo - who spurned a good opportunity before being substituted - has to feel more culpable. So much for last weekend's morale-boosting draw against Manchester United.

"It will be hard, but we'll come back very strong after this," Ranieiri said. "Men can fall but I like to see men rise and start again." So over to Lazarus, then.