Debacle might be considered a strong word by many considering we won, but I made Wednesday night's performance the worst of the Roberto Di Matteo era.
Worse than losing 4-1 to both Liverpool and Atlético Madrid? Certainly. Individual errors soured each of these games, but against Shakhtar, we were structurally inept, devoid of leadership and bossed by a very, very good team; perhaps the best we¹ve played all season.
The Ukrainians have earned a relative degree of respect from Western European football fans but they still tend to be underrated by most. Manager Mircea Lucescu has a wonderfully gifted squad at his disposal but is also a supreme tactical mind and exploited the many holes given to him by Chelsea time and again.
Primarily, the way the team set itself up on the pitch presented numerous problems. This isn't an issue of formation but rather positioning and spacing. The back four once again played far too deep, as they did in
Donetsk a fortnight prior. Given the added athleticism of Cahill and Bertrand over Terry and Cole, this was somewhat surprising, and laid the foundation for a lot of the issues.
In order to prevent Henrik Mkhitaryan in particular (but also Willian and Alex Teixeira) from being afforded too much space in the number ten role, Mikel and Ramires had to play closer to their defenders. Unfortunately, the knock-on effect there is a huge void between them and the four forwards, and Shakhtar were able to repeatedly enjoy time and space to play in, with Tomas Hubschmann doing the dirty work and Fernandinho the legwork to great effect.
When playing with four lines of players, it's imperative to ensure that you play with correct spacing in between, and move up and down the pitch as a unit. If you don't, as we saw Wednesday, you leave space for the opponent, and that can be devastating.
The decision to move Ramires to the left of Mikel was also rather curious. On the face of it his skillset was certainly suited to helping Ryan Bertrand out, with Eden Hazard not the most adept yet at helping the man behind him, although he is getting there. However, Ramires' inclination to get forward meant he was repeatedly and wildly out of position, much to the glee of Darijo Srna, who terrorised young Bertrand all night long.
Fortunately, the two major issues highlighted are easily remedied and require a greater mental focus than any great reconfiguration of how the team approaches matches. Individual mistakes are hard to legislate for and will rarely come as plentiful as they did this week, so ideally that will take care of itself.
You often learn as much in defeat as you do in victory, and somehow we came away with three very big points from this one, but I'd argue that not only will we scarcely face a better team this season, but that we'll also be able to learn a few lessons from it which will stand us in good stead going forward. At least I hope so, for the sake of the team.