European exit could shatter Blues’ season

Trevor Steven
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IT could take a game or two before the full extent of the damage manifests itself, but I think defeat to Inter Milan will prove to be a huge blow for Chelsea. More than just ending their Champions League campaign, the impact threatens to derail their challenge for two other trophies. After Tuesday’s deserved loss, I’d make Carlo Ancelotti’s men only third favourites to win the Premier League.

Some Chelsea fans might draw comfort that a premature end to the European campaign means they will benefit from having fewer fixtures than title rivals Manchester United and Arsenal. Certainly they may be physically fresher when they travel to Old Trafford for a potentially pivotal clash on 3 April now they will not be playing a Champions League quarter-final days earlier.

But Tuesday night was no blessing in disguise. The expectation at Chelsea is that they compete on all fronts. The club’s ambition is to win the Champions League and their latest failure represents a monumental disappointment and blow to their confidence.

Yes, they bounced back last season after going out of Europe in another dramatic and emotionally-charged tie, on that occasion against Barcelona, and went on to win the FA Cup. But they did not win the league, and I fancy Arsenal to nip in this time if United do not lift the trophy for a fourth season in a row.

I still think Ancelotti is the right man for the job; he was just unfortunate to come up against Inter and Jose Mourinho in their current form. The Special One’s return to Stamford Bridge proved a massive talking point and I do not think that Chelsea, deep down, wanted that tie at all.

Chelsea sorely missed Michael Essien in midfield, where they were bullied by Esteban Cambiasso and Thiago Motta, while Inter playmaker Wesley Sneijder really shone. There are not many traditional No10s like him around in the Premier League. Liverpool could certainly use him, perhaps Chelsea could too.