And then there was one…

In a season where Chelsea have fought for an unprecedented eight pieces of silverware, they are now in contention only for the one trophy they hoped back in August they would end up nowhere near.

And then there was one…

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April 16th, 2013

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The Community Shield, UEFA Super Cup, Premier League, Champions League, World Club Cup, League Cup and now the FA Cup have all fallen by the wayside. Only the Europa League remains a possibility for the side who are, for another month, able to call themselves the Champions of Europe.

What’s gone wrong? It is, perhaps, worth looking at what the players have to say for themselves…

Speaking at Villa Park after the 3-2 Community Shield defeat to Manchester City, John Mikel Obi cited a lack of ‘effort’, ‘sharpness’ and ‘fitness’. Yes, there were a number of other factors we could all see: the (deserved) red card for Branislav Ivanovic; possibly some tactical naivety from already-doomed coach Roberto Di Matteo; a superiority in the City midfield Blues were yet to rue again. But those shortcomings singled out by Mikel could have been applied to almost any of Chelsea’s biggest matches as the season went forward.

Three weeks later, having been humbled 4-1 by Europa League holders Atletlico Madrid in Monaco, it was Gary Cahill’s turn to list the failings. Beyond a rampant Radmel Falcao and a leaky defence, Cahill said Chelsea were ‘below par’, ‘fell to pieces’, ‘sloppy’. Ashley Cole went further: ‘no fight, desire, passion’ he tweeted.

Come December’s Yokohama defeat to Corinthians, the boss had changed.

Yes, there were questions about the way ‘interim’ manager Rafael Benitez set-up the team. But unused sub Lucas Piazon was banging the same old drum as those who had spoken before him, when he said “we didn’t have desire to be champions.”

No players were available for comment post-match at Swansea as Chelsea exited the League Cup: a club-imposed media blackout in place following the Eden Hazard-ballboy incident. But indulge me here, and try to disagree if I chuck the phrases ‘lack of effort’, ‘indiscipline’, ‘shortage of ambition’ your way (aside from the painfully defensive way Chelsea went about chasing a 2-0 deficit).

And so to Sunday, Wembley, and Cesar Azpilicueta.

The fullback said Chelsea were ‘tired’ and ‘didn’t create chances’. “It is true that we need to play different,” was perhaps the simplest, but truest thing that had been said all season.

Lacking desire and effort; no fight or passion; sloppy and tired – it certainly sums up the season from Swansea to Yokohama. But what is the common thread?

On five of the six occasions Chelsea dropped out of a cup competition, they did so in the absence of John Terry. That is not necessarily an indictment on the absence of his skills – mostly a mere shadow of their former greatness. But it is a clear pointer towards a lack of leadership.

Which brings me on to a pressing need for the coming months: last summer Chelsea bought skill and flair; this summer they must find, within the club or more likely elsewhere, character.

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