Carlo Ancelotti's side might still be vying for the BarclaysPremier League and the FA Cup but that should not disguise the factthat, right now, the club are in something of a mess. As troubled onthe field as they are off it, judging by how poor they were againstJose Mourinho's Italian champions.
Old and the new: Mourinho won his battle with Carlo Ancelotti
The players have been divided by scandal and controversy, by the widespread sympathy for Wayne Bridge over the John Terry affair and by the fall-out that has followed the salacious revelations about Ashley Cole.
What will happen if Cole is hauled before Chelsea's hierarchy, having been accused of lying to the club's director of communications?
And how did something that happened on a pre-season tour in Seattle last year find its way into the newspapers? Chelsea's dressing room is full of talk of how the story made its way from their inner sanctum to the front pages.
Clearly, Terry has suffered in the wake of losing the England captaincy. His form has dipped significantly, his performance against Inter as poor as any he has delivered in recent months.
But team deficiencies extend way beyond Terry. Of further concern to Fabio Capello will be the contribution by Frank Lampard, while Ancelotti will be worried by the ineptitude of players like Michael Ballack, Nicolas Anelka and Joe Cole. Ballack and Cole might not be impressed with being offered pay cuts, while Anelka has not been the same since Didier Drogba returned from the Africa Cup of Nations. The goals have dried up for a start.
Second best: Wesley Sneijder pokes the ball away from Ballack (front)
Chelsea looked like an old team against Inter, which is hard to explain when they were the younger of the sides. An average age of 28.27 compared to 29.59.
But they have not evolved since Mourinho left two and a half years ago, progress hindered by an owner who too quickly loses patience with the manager. They are the team Mourinho left behind and they have become stale.
As this week demonstrated, Roman Abramovich should not have forced Europe's finest young manager to leave. But switching from Avram Grant to Luiz Felipe Scolari and then Guus Hiddink before bringing in Ancelotti is not the kind of leadership to breed success. Chelsea have continued to compete for the big prizes in spite of their Russian owner. Not because of him.
That might seem unfair because Abramovich's money built the team in the first place, but he really needs to start thinking about what he can do to help before beginning a search for a new manager. Too often Abramovich seems to respond in a knee-jerk manner. There was an inquest after last month's 4-2 defeat by Manchester City and there were further recriminations yesterday.
Hiding away: Ashley Cole watches Chelsea lose against Inter Milan during the Champions League second leg
After the Inter defeat, Abramovich, flanked by fierce-looking body guards, scowled as he walked towards his team. He was said to be 'livid', even if he remained calm when he entered the dressing room. Florent Malouda said: 'He didn't speak. Everyone was quiet because we were really disappointed. He came in because when we lose, we lose together.'
Already the question of whether Ancelotti is the right man to deliver the success Abramovich so craves would have been raised. Not necessarily by the owner, but by those who surround him. In the court of Roman there are characters who can profit from such situations. Most prominent, say insiders, is a Serbian football agent called Vlado Lemic. Some will quibble in Abramovich's ear, offering advice but often succeeding only in destabilising the club.
This will be uncharted territory for new chief executive Ron Gourlay. Ancelotti might have felt more secure had Peter Kenyon still been there. He knew the value of continuity, having worked alongside Sir Alex Ferguson prior to moving to Chelsea. Ancelotti realises the pressure is on after Champions League elimination, and he knows just how demanding his employer is.
It's not fair: John Terry gives the fourth official a piece of his mind as he leaves the field after defeat eliminated Chelsea
Mourinho was dismissed after two league titles; Grant after coming within a whisker of landing a European and domestic double; Scolari after five minutes, guiding Brazil to a World Cup not being enough to convince his boss that he deserved more time.
If Chelsea do fall away in the title race, Ancelotti will be in a precarious position - even if much of the responsibility rests with others. Tuesday felt like the end of the line for a once-great team, for a group of players who blossomed under Mourinho but have been in gradual decline since he left. There were echoes of AC Milan's performance against Manchester United. A side that could no longer cope in the company of the very best teams in Europe.
So what next? Well, it should be left to a fine manager with an outstanding track record to begin the rebuilding process. To assess where changes need to be made and act, not to mention gain full control of a dressing room that has appeared too powerful.
Mourinho definitely feels certain players contributed to his downfall. But to do that, Ancelotti needs to know that his position is secure. He needs patience, time and money. Whether he gets them at Chelsea remains to be seen.
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