By Liam Twomey
While the humbling Chelsea received at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the Uefa Super Cup final on Friday night did not quite cancel out the euphoria felt by Blues fans on that astonishing night in Munich three months ago, it did provide a bitter sequel which will linger long in the memory.
The intervening summer had yielded nothing but positivity at Stamford Bridge. Roberto Di Matteo capitalised on his status as the most popular caretaker manager of all time to win a permanent stint in the managerial hotseat, while exciting young signings heralded a bright new dawn.
These arrivals indicated a more youthful, expansive, attractive Chelsea, and in the first week of the new campaign the team lived up to its fresh billing. Hazard took the Premier League by storm, combining delightfully with Juan Mata and Fernando Torres, while Oscar also sparkled.
In particular, the Belgian appeared to hold the key to waking Torres from the extended slumber which had transformed him from feared modern striker to mocked modern enigma. A brilliant goal against Newcastle, last season's surprise package in the top flight, appeared to support the theory.
But at the Stade Louis II in Monaco, the wave of optimism and confidence which has propelled Chelsea along since the Champions League final was dashed against the rocks as Atletico – and, in particular, their deadly number nine – put their opponents well and truly to the sword.
Falcao, the man mysteriously overlooked by many of Europe's top clubs – and not least Chelsea – despite his phenomenal talent, terrorised the Blues defence at will. He scored a clinical first-half hat-trick but, were it not for the woodwork, his joy would have been to the tune of five.
Di Matteo's men looked sluggish, disorganised and, worst of all, bullied. The defensive failings hinted at against Reading and Newcastle were laid bare for all of Europe to see.
David Luiz endured what Gary Neville might refer to as one of his 'ten-year-old on the Playstation' performances, but such was the level of calamity at the back that he did not stand out by much.
Up front, the likes of Torres, Mata and the much-vaunted Hazard were reduced to the role of spectators. Atletico's early opener gave them the base on which to sit deep and counter with speed and weight of numbers, and they did so with gusto.
As an approach it was relatively simple yet incredibly effective and, most worryingly for Di Matteo, highlighted clearly the blueprint for beating his new-look side.
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No team has ever retained Europe's premier club competition in its modern form. Given the manner of their victory in Munich, Chelsea were never likely to be the team to buck that trend. But summer signings had given them hope of achieving it – hope which must now be put firmly into perspective.
On the evidence of such a brutal beating suffered at the hands of a team not even in the Champions League this season, Di Matteo's side are nowhere near good enough to scale the mountain again.
Of course, the Kings of Europe are not crowned in August. The season is long but, on the evidence of Friday night, so is the journey Chelsea must take if they are to shock the world once more.
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