Tuesday night was as sobering as any Chelsea have had to endure in recent seasons – a night when an unmistakable message was delivered by a rampant Bayern Munich.
That message was the confirmation that the Blues are as far away as ever in their bid to find a way back to the very top table of European football.
Last season’s fine Europa League triumph may have felt like a stepping stone signalling their return, but Munich 2012 felt a long way off.
Perhaps it is a little unkind to use the 3-0 defeat to Bayern as a yardstick. There are not many better teams around than the Germans, who are very real contenders this year to make it to the final in Istanbul and lift the trophy they have already won five times.
But it was the way Frank Lampard’s men were contemptuously brushed aside that really set off the alarm bells. Chelsea fought tenaciously in the first half to keep Hand-Dieter Flick’s men at bay, but it always seemed just a matter of time before the visitors’ slick football earned its rewards.
Everything the Bavarians did seemed to ooze purpose and class and then there was the pace and incisiveness which brought two more goals in London for former Arsenal man Serge Gnabry – the striker having bagged four in a 7-2 group win against Spurs this season.
And what Chelsea would not give to have someone like Robert Lewandowski, who scored the third to virtually kill the tie. No side has ever recovered after losing a home leg 3-0.
The Matthew Harding end sang heartily about Didier Drogba, reminding Bayern fans of that glorious May evening in Munich when the Blues lifted the Champions League ‘in your own back yard.’ But it has been a long time since Drogba left Stamford Bridge and he has never really been replaced (what player like that ever can be?). Diego Costa was perhaps the closest.
In the game of ‘pick a combined XI’ from the two sides, who in truth would stand a chance of making it from the Chelsea team? On this week’s showing, maybe only Mateo Kovacic, who was the only one who looked capable of causing damage with his incisive passing and energy.
One player. This was just not a fair contest.
Reece James has been rightly praised for his performances in a breakthrough season. The 20-year-old has offered a glimpse of the progress Lampard can make by developing the young players in his ranks. But the brilliance of another full-back in the opposition ranks put some perspective on the eulogies.
Alphonso Davies, the Ghanaian-born Canadian with a tough back story was excellent and fearless and his dash led to the third goal of the night. He is only 19 and actually younger than James.
What was a worry for Chelsea, though, was that many of the older hands seemed incapable of shaping the contest. Both Willian and Pedro came off the bench, but hardly got a look-in. Marcos Alonso got himself sent off towards the end for a sly off-the-ball elbow into Lewandowski. Antonio Rudiger looked rattled.
Olivier Giroud won headers and battled gamely, but he has never felt like a solution – or a serious first-choice option, even if he got the nod ahead of Tammy Abraham this time.
And the goalkeeping issue is now another issue. When you do not trust a £71 million keeper – as Kepa Arrizabalaga is – things are obviously not right.
“This is the kind of night that every player looks forward to,” remarked skipper Cesar Azpilicueta before the contest. Some will be relishing the return leg on March 18 rather more than others, one suspects, a most of them will be in the red shirts of Bayern.