Bravo, Chelsea. Bravo. You truly outdid yourselves against West Ham on Saturday.
It is a remarkable feat to follow a dominant first-half performance with one quite so abject in the second half. For all the promise shown in the opening period, the evolution of the match after the half-time break shows that Chelsea are currently nothing more than a paper tiger. A sprinkling of style backed up by little substance.
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An even start to the match gave way to a smartly taken opening goal that appeared to restore the team confidence that had been sorely lacking in recent games. However, the main problem once again was the inability to take the chances presented. Juan Mata should have doubled his tally while Ramires and Fernando Torres conspired to butcher a counter-attack that saw just two West Ham players standing between four Chelsea players and the goal. The utter capitulation in the second half showed just how crucial those misses were.
At the risk of repeating myself for the zillionth time on these pages, there were two key factors underpinning this all-too-familiar routine. When the going was good in the early part of the match, the team played with swagger and purpose. The moment the momentum switched, there was no bulwark to stem the tide. The bulwarks in question not being the brave last-ditch defending of Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic, who did their jobs admirably, but the lack of any discernible leaders on the pitch.
Although I am not advocating that Frank Lampard should start every match regardless once fit, there is no getting away from the fact that his team-mates are missing his steadying influence in those testing moments. There are some fans who have petitioned for the moving on of players such as Lampard to allow the younger players the freedom to express themselves. That would be all well and good were those players able to exhibit the kind of resolve and stoicism under pressure that is demanded of them. However, it is clear that they cannot and the return of the English midfielder from injury can't come soon enough. The leadership vacuum remains a headache for whoever is in charge of the team this week or next.
The other point that has to be reiterated is the lack of a focal point up front. Actually, let me rephrase that - the lack of an effective focal point up front. Torres did well to create the goal for Mata, but surely we should still expect more from any striker, not least one who cost £50 million and earns the best part of £200,000 a week. It would be interesting to know whether the shortage of strikers at the club is bothering those in the boardroom. One hopes they are hanging their heads in shame at the crazy decision not to recruit anyone in the summer while letting Romelu Lukaku leave the club on loan. But I suspect they still have their blinkers on, still stuck in a time-warp where Torres is a ruthless goalscorer.
Had the Blues -- or Whites on this occasion -- taken their chances in the first half, the game would have been out of sight of the Hammers. Their profligacy allowed West Ham to once again prove that a 1-0 lead is a precarious position no matter how superior your prior exploits have been. Not all the chances were missed by Torres, though there is an acceptance amongst observers -- and probably team-mates as well -- that he is not to be trusted in front of goal even if he does manage to buy himself some space in that position, a rarity these days.
Inevitably, the 3-1 defeat will see the pressure rise on Rafa Benitez, and while I am keen to move on from the controversial appointment and stop crying over spilt milk, one can't help but question what has changed for the better since Roberto Di Matteo was removed. A change in manager is often made so the arrival of a new coach can prompt players to redouble their efforts in a bid to impress him. That has not happened.
Equally, it can be argued that Di Matteo would have had a greater points haul from the past three games than the two Benitez has amassed. Chelsea would probably have been found wanting defensively against Manchester City and ultimately lost that game, but I severely doubt that the Blues would have been so bereft of creativity and chances against Fulham under the Italian and I would venture that the match would have returned a home win.
Whatever the visiting fans might have been singing for at Upton park, Benitez is not going to be sacked by Roman Abramovich. Even he is not that flippant. However, it is hard to think of a managerial appointment in the history of football that has had the combined effect of causing the club's supporters to openly revolt while simultaneously overseeing a further downturn in results.
I wrote in my last post that it might get worse before it gets better, though it was a prediction I truly hoped would be proved spectacularly wrong. It could still come true, though perhaps Chelsea will fail to improve at all.
Perhaps the trip to Japan to compete in the FIFA Club World Cup will be the catalyst for revival, but the very fact that this Chelsea team is about to contest the right to be world champion simply beggars belief.
Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell