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Blues on red alert as messy Mikel sums up limp show

Dominic Fifield The Guardian 04.11.2008 22:03
Roma's players celebrate scoring against Chelsea. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto /AFP/Getty Images

Roma's players celebrate scoring against Chelsea. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto /AFP/Getty Images

Luiz Felipe Scolari's reign at Chelsea has suffered its most resounding setback to date. If this squad had travelled to Italy sensing progress to the knockout phase was within their grasp, then they returned home in the small hours of this morning beaten, bewildered and with Group A breathing disconcertingly down their necks. This was a painful reality check.

Not since Middlesbrough rampaged to a 3-0 success at the Riverside back in February 2006 have they endured a loss this convincing but, while it was baffling to witness the visitors so overrun by a side that had apparently been broken by a dreadful run of recent defeats, there were too many familiar failings here to enrage Scolari. Just as against Liverpool in the Premier League last month, when the Brazilian tasted defeat for the first time, his team failed mystifyingly to ally possession with penetration. They will travel to Bordeaux in three weeks' time in what now appears a critical tie without their suspended playmaker, Deco, and aware that they cannot afford to be this wasteful again.

Scolari might have sensed debacle in the air. For 33 minutes last night, his team out-passed their hosts on a turf rendered sodden by a four-hour deluge which had briefly threatened the fixture itself. Florent Malouda tormented Cicinho, while Deco and Frank Lampard were untouchable in central midfield. Roma gasped as they chased the ball hopelessly. Yet the visitors boasted no bite in the six-yard box, no physical presence in the air to unsettle nervous defenders, and their monopoly of possession yielded nothing. Doni turned away long-range attempts from midfield but Nicolas Anelka was anonymous and, after the break, Didier Drogba demonstrated just how shorn he remains of match fitness.


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