Chelsea reacquaint themselves with UCL disappointment

Posted by Phil Lythell

Rafael Benitez GettyImagesRafael Benitez: Hoping for a trophy before season's end

Oh well. Chelsea's qualification for the knockout rounds of the Champions League was held more in hope than expectation but the disappointment still stings.

A stirring 6-1 win over Nordsjaelland added gloss to what was an uncertain campaign but at least it gave the crowd at Stamford Bridge the opportunity to see some goals, something that has been lacking in recent matches. In terms of flattering to deceive there was also the sight of Fernando Torres finally getting his name on the scoresheet - twice, no less - but then we are used to him cashing in against meagre opponents having bagged a brace against last year's group stage whipping boys Genk as well as bagging his one Chelsea hat-trick against Queens Park Rangers.

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Ultimately, all the damage was done in the very first match of this Champions League season: the 2-2 draw against Juventus. The golden start that Oscar's magic provided to give the Blues a 2-0 lead in that fixture seemed to pave the way to another routine win but a spirited response from the Old Lady of Turin cut the home side down to size. Letting a two-goal lead slip at home is rarely short of scandalous and it felt like that when walking out of the stadium in September. However, if we are to be brutally honest, a draw was the correct result in a match in which Chelsea ceded more and more control as the game progressed, with Fabio Quagliarella's equaliser signposted from halfway through the second half.

Winning your home games is key in this competition and failure to do so ultimately proved to be the difference but stoicism away from home can haul you back into contention if those standards slip. Unfortunately, the virtues of last season's efforts were not in evidence this time around with limp defeats encountered at both Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk. The glorious march to Munich in 2011/12 was built upon humble ambition allied with the solid foundations of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, and John Terry. Those three totems were absent this time around for a variety of reasons and their willing but directionless replacements were unable to replicate the achievements of their exalted predecessors.

Disappointment happens. As a Chelsea fan, the Champions League has largely meant heartbreak rather than heaven. Last season was ecstasy, now Blues fans are back to feeling the much more familiar sensation of agony in Europe's elite competition. Perversely, that is the joy of the whole thing. The trials and tribulations experienced at the hands of Liverpool, Barcelona and Manchester United over the years all made that night on 19th May 2012 so much more special and this latest setback should be embraced with the knowledge that those heights can be scaled again. We will appreciate the next European Cup win so much more because of it.

No team has a divine right to progress in the Champions League. Although Chelsea had become sitting tenants in the knockout stages over the last eight years, it should also be remembered that Sir Alex Ferguson's Man United team have failed to make it to that stage twice in that same period. It should also be recalled that they also reached three finals in that time, lifting the trophy on one occasion. To them, failure was a spur to greater things and that is exactly how it should be received at Chelsea. The painful memory of falling short will hopefully supply greater resolve as the new era of the club progresses as one can only truly appreciate the highs of triumph if they have tasted the lows of ignominy.

Inevitably, there will be those who gloat over the Blues demise and others who cite the fact that Chelsea have the dubious tag of becoming the first Champions League winners to fail to make it out of their group. But there is a key word in that sentence: winners. Although an unwanted label, there is still no disgrace in it simply because it means that the club actually managed to lift the greatest trophy in club football. Whatever they might say in trying to extract a rise out of Blues fans, I'm pretty certain that any Arsenal, Tottenham or Manchester City supporter would gladly swap places with the European Champions.

And while the glass is half full, let's look at another positive. The new adventure into the UEFA Europa League gives Chelsea the chance to lift a cup that it has never won before. If the FIFA Club World Cup is added in the next fortnight - admittedly a big 'if' - then West London's finest will have won every single major trophy that it is possible to win - and I include the Full Members Cup.

Munich may not be repeated this season but we still have the memories. And failing that, we can always watch the DVD.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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