The Blues were knocked out of the Champions League at the semifinal stage on Wednesday night following a 3-1 defeat to Atletico Madrid at Stamford BridgeAs Roman Abramovich watched on from his luxury private box in the west stand, he was presented with the kind of vibrant attacking football he has always craved at Stamford Bridge.
Unfortunately, it was the team in red and white stripes playing with the speed, authority and skill that would have reminded the Russian billionaire why he once dreamed of appointing Pep Guardiola as the Chelsea manager.
In the second half, Chelsea surrendered meekly. Jose Mourinho has so often conquered rivals in big matches away from home, but Atletico Madrid beat him at his own game to book a place in the Champions League final on May 24 when it faces Real Madrid.
Mourinho claimed the game turned on an “impossible save” from Thibaut Courtois to deny John Terry, followed moments later by a clumsy foul from Samuel Eto’o that allowed Diego Costa to put the visitors ahead from the penalty spot.
Such moments may come to define some games, but Atletico’s win here was founded on more than a slice of luck.
The intensity of play was startling, the cohesion of attacking movement too much for the Blues to handle. Atleti played with a passion that mirrored that of their coach, Diego Simeone, on the touchline.
Mourinho could find no answer, not this time.
Not so special anymore? This was Mourinho’s fourth Champions League semifinal defeat in a row, his sixth overall in six attempts to reach the final of Europe’s most prestigious competition.
The Portuguese had tried to repeat the formula that worked so well in Sunday’s win at Anfield, starting with six recognized defenders in his side, looking to keep the game tight and exploit any chink in Atletico’s armor.
Eyebrows were raised but the game was going perfectly to Mourinho’s gameplan when Torres fired Chelsea ahead via a deflection in the 36th minute.
But the La Liga leader hit back. Adrian equalized just before halftime before Simeone’s men took control after the break. Diego Costa put the visitors ahead from the penalty spot and then Arda Turan sealed the win.
Atletico is the perfect example of a team that is coached to become far more than the sum of its parts.
Mourinho, a year in to the four-year deal he signed to return to Chelsea last year, is still working on uniting the group of individuals assembled for him by Abramovich at great expense.
Having already conceded the Premier League title, publicly at least, Mourinho’s attention almost immediately turned towards next season.
"Next season will be better than this season - that's our objective - the objective of everybody," he said in his post-match interview.
In ‘everybody’, he includes Abramovich.
Mourinho believes a top-class striker will solve most of his problems. Having particularly struggled when asked to break down weaker teams this season, the Portuguese has lamented the lack of attacking firepower in the Blues squad.
Torres, Eto’o and Demba Ba are not good enough for this elite level. The anticipated arrival of Costa - what a shame it would be to see him leave the Spanish capital - would provide the quality Chelsea have needed in the final third.
Tottenham midfielder Paulinho has also been strongly linked with a move to the Blues recently, a typical Mourinho all-action midfielder.
But are these the acquisitions to deliver both the winning results and beautiful football that Abramovich wants?
Probably not. And he sacked Roberto Di Matteo for Chelsea’s defensive-minded style of play just months after the Italian delivered him the Champions League in 2012.
Mourinho has said this season that he accepts the owner’s wishes and understands the style of football Abramovich wants to see having signed small, quick and technical players such as Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian.
Just as Atletico plays in Simeone’s image, so does Chelsea with Mourinho. The Blues are organised defensively, know their tactical roles to the last detail and work hard on set-pieces and counterattacks.
Yet Mourinho is unlikely to ever change his ways, to risk results for aesthetics.
Too often, he relies on a moment of individual quality. "Often, I'm asked to do it all by myself and it's not easy,” reflected Hazard after Wednesday’s defeat.
With he Belgian struggling for fitness, Oscar out of form and no top class striker; Chelsea has come unstuck in recent weeks against teams towards the lower end of the table that set out to frustrate it.
He would never admit it, but Mourinho may reflect he should have kept Juan Mata in January rather than sell the Spaniard to Manchester United.
Abramovich sacked Mourinho the first time around because he was not happy with the defensive style of football and there have been few signs that it will be any different in the 51-year-old’s second spell.
The trophies will no doubt come if Mourinho stays for the next three seasons on his 10 million pound per year contract. But can he ever deliver the Chelsea that Abramovich really wants?