Horrible homecoming for Conte as Blues are run ragged by Roma
Roma 3 Chelsea 0
Many unhappy returns. On his first match back in Italy as a visiting manager, Antonio Conte suffered his joint-worst defeat as Chelsea manager, as they were smashed by a rampant Roma in a dismal display that will give him lots to ponder.
It was also a first defeat for an English side in Europe this season, but could have been a whole lot worse, especially as they also got a huge let-off due to events in Spain. Atletico Madrid could only draw 1-1 at home against 10-man Qarabag, meaning Chelsea will actually qualify with a win in Baku in the next match.
They will have to considerably improve on this shambles, though, especially with Manchester United to come on Sunday.
Even if the night was not that bad due to Atletico's 1-1 draw with Qarabag, this match itself was awful for Chelsea from start to finish.
The supreme Stephan El Shaarawy scored after just 39 seconds, and if that spectacular strike was the best moment of the game, it just got worse and worse for Chelsea.
Antonio Rudiger was also back at his former home, but seemed as if on unfamiliar ground, as he didn't know where he was in stepping up on 37 minutes to let El Shaarawy in for the second. He was far from the only player culpable, and that might not have even been the worst error for the game, as calamity ran right through the team. They just looked tired, and thereby suffered a torrid evening.
Alvaro Morata was ineffective up front, Eden Hazard was inefficient and the midfield of Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas was again totally overrun. How they miss N'Golo Kante, although that still shouldn't explain how Fabregas so sloppily missed a tackle for when Diego Perotti scored a brilliant third on 63 minutes.
The disarray that they had descended into was perhaps best displayed moments after that, though, when three Chelsea players somehow trailed man-of-the-match Edin Dzeko as he burst through on goal to leave Perotti unmarked.
He somehow missed, and that was just one reason that Conte somehow wasn't subjected to his worst ever defeat. It might well have been Chelsea's worst ever performance under him. It really was that poor.
The oddity was that the game had started as if it might match the helter-skelter mayhem of the 3-3 two weeks as Pedro went through on goal almost immediately, but it was really only Roma that were able to keep up that pace.
Chelsea couldn't match Roma once El Shaarawy had properly set the pace, with that blistering opening goal straight after Pedro's stumble.
Aleksandar Kolarov played with a quick pass from the left for his former Manchester City team-mate Edin Dzeko, he headed back to the area just in front of the centre of the 18-yard box and El Shaaraway ran onto it to fire home a first-time shot.
The one curiosity to the game was that Conte had seemed to have spotted a weakness in Roma, as Chelsea repeatedly looked like they might get in behind that backline with calculated balls over the top, but the concern was that they couldn't act on this or execute anything properly.
There was just a raggedness to their play and general execution, like when Cesar Azpilicueta let the ball roll under his foot for a throw when in a promising position, or when Hazard kept hitting the ball straight at Allison in the Roma goal after putting himself into good shooting positions.
It was like that all over the pitch, and wasn't long until it told at the other end of the pitch.
On 37 minutes, former Chelsea target Radja Nainggolan played a hopeful ball into the box. It should have been easy for Rudiger to deal with it, but he inexplicably let the ball go, allowing El Shaarawy to so slickly slip the ball past Courtois with another one-touch finish - if of course a deftly different one.
While it was El Shaaraway who had fired the ball into the net, it was Dzeko who was firing at a level above anyone else on the pitch. He was everywhere, both creating chances for others and driving efforts at goal himself, looking as good as he's ever been. There was one moment in the second half where he delightfully touched a dropping ball back up into air, before playing a volleyed pass in a fine flowing movement.
The force of his play was all the more striking because there was such a contrast at the other end. Morata just didn't look fully fit, and his only efforts on goal were feeble.
It was no surprise when he was taken off as Conte continued to try and arrest the situation with drastic moves like bringing on Willian for Gary Cahill, but still less surprise when Roma added to their lead.
Perotti just looked to be performing at a different level to Fabregas as he so easily skipped by him on 63 minutes, and drove the ball into the bottom corner from distance.
It was shortly after that the Chelsea defence descended into something out of a black-and-white comedy, with that panicked chase for Dzeko, as he and Roma continued to add vivid technicolour to their game. Only Thibaut Courtois could be proud of what he did, as he pulled off a brilliant save from substitute Kostas Manolas to prevent this being a proper rout on the scoreboard. It was already a rout in terms of performance, though.
It is just such a let-off that it still somehow doesn't look that bad on the actual group table.
(© Independent News Service)
Independent News Service