On Wednesday night, Chelsea put in the kind of performance that gets a manager sacked. The Blues went into the game against Roma hoping to qualify from the group-stage with a hard-fought win over Atlético putting them in an excellent position at the Stadio Olimpico.
Those hopes were blown apart after a minute when Stephan El Sharaawy’s nail-gunned finish set the Giallorossi up for a sumptuous performance. Roma harried, hassled and harassed their opponents and, in the end, a 3-0 loss flatters an utterly feckless Chelsea.
Here are five things we learned from Wednesday’s game.
1 Alvaro Morata is out of sorts
“I wish I played with him” crowed Steven Gerrard about Alvaro Morata during BT Sport’s coverage of the match. Not on this evidence.
Morata, who had denied claims that he is unsettled in London, missed one glorious chance to level the game as Chelsea pressed for an equaliser. Ballooning over from six yards out, he sulked ineffectually for the rest of the game.
Nobody was surprised when he was hauled off for Michy Batshuayi late into the second half.
2 Chelsea are nothing without Kanté
Antonio Conte had hoped his prize possession would be ready for the game in Roma after recovering from a recent hamstring injury. After Wednesday night’s horror show, though, the Frenchman will be glad that he reported himself unfit.
Time and again, Roma poured through the Kanté-shaped hole in the Chelsea midfield, with Radja Nainggolan grateful for the opportunity to dominate against a timid Tiemoué Bakayoko.
Cesc Fabregas has many qualities, but mobility has never been one of them. It was no surprise to see the impressive Diego Perotti run past him to finish in the second half.
3 Azpilicueta is not a wing back
Antonio Conte once complained during his time at Juventus that a lack of investment stopped him from competing in Europe. When Max Allegri took over at the club and promptly took them to the Champions League final, those claims starting looking spurious. Attention soon turned to the Chelsea manager’s tactical nous.
On last night’s evidence, not much has improved. Cesar Azpilicueta has been fantastic as part of a Chelsea back-three, but his move to right-wing-back did nobody any favours last night, particularly with Davide Zappacosta and Willian on the bench.
When the Brazilian come on in the second half, his side were instantly more threatening. By then, however, the result was already out of their hands.
4 Stephen El Shaarawy is good again
It’s been a difficult few years for the Italian. After breaking through at AC Milan a few years ago, mutterings have grown about a lack of consistency at the highest level.
A luckless spell at Monaco led to his transfer to the capital and, after a brief settling in period, he has grown into a vital part of the Roma attack. The ‘Pharoah’ scored his side’s winner against Bologna at the weekend, a delicious strike book-ended by his well-taken brace on Wednesday.
At 25, there’s still time for the prodigy to morph into a proven talent. Roma, and Italian football in general, will certainly hope so.
5 Conte's strength a weakness?
When Antonio Conte arrived at Chelsea, he continued with the 4-2-3-1 formation that his predecessor Jose Mourinho had implemented before his departure from the club. Within seven games, though, the Italian had switched to a back three and a two-man midfield in an arrangement that would take him to the league title by the end of the season.
Unsurprisingly, this tactical flexibility was heralded as genius by commentators and pundits alike. However, in recent games, this so-called malleability has been shown to be something more akin to stubbornness than anything else.
Without the right personnel populating it, the famous 3-4-3 has started to look very fragile indeed. Against Roma, rather than modifying his approach, Conte ploughed onwards with little success. The question is: will he change things up tactically for this Sunday's clash with Manchester United?
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