Sometimes you’re the bug and sometimes you’re the windshield.
On Tuesday at Shakhtar Donetsk, Chelsea was definitely the bug.
Playing their worst game since their dismantling at the hands of Atletico Madrid and Radamel Falcao in the UEFA Super Cup, the Blues were picked apart by Shakhtar Donetsk, 2-1 at Donbass Arena in UEFA Champions League group play. The win continued the hosts' unbeaten home streak to 11 months and made the defending European Champions look extremely average.
There were very few bright spots for Chelsea, who fell to second place in Group E with four points while Shakhtar took command of the group with the win and now sits on seven points.
The two clubs meet again in west London on November 7 in what has now become a huge match in the tournament for the Blues.
If you’re a die-hard Chelsea fan who always sees the team through royal blue-colored glasses you may not want to read the following players’ grades, as few played up to their potential in Ukraine.
Sometimes you’re the bug and sometimes you’re the windshield.
Let’s face it: The scoreline on Tuesday could have been much worse if not for the play of the Chelsea goalkeeper.
Chelsea defenders left huge open spaces for Shakhtar to get good looks on net and did Cech and themselves no great favors.
Winning, or even earning a draw at Donbass Arena against the Ukrainian champions, has been virtually impossible as of late—the home side ran off a 25-match winning streak in all competitions before drawing with Juventus in its last match in the Champions League—and Cech was his usual solid self and made a couple of nice saves and let no balls bounce free in front of him in goal.
Blaming the Czech netminder for the loss at Shakhtar would sort of be like blaming Al Pacino for The Godfather III—really silly, as allowing only two goals on 17 shots on target and ending up with just a -1 in goal differential for the game in a statistic that may come into play in the future in the group was truly an accomplishment in itself.
For a guy thought by many to be the best left-back in the world, Ashley Cole had an awful outing and basically set the tone for what proved to be a frustrating game.
Just three minutes in, Cole allowed Alex Teixeira way too much space in the box and the Shakhtar midfielder banged home his shot past a helpless Cech to give the hosts a very early 1-0 lead.
Cole made matters worse for himself a little later in the first half when he foolishly tried to knock the ball out of the hands of Shakhtar goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov on a play that had been over for several seconds.
He was shown a yellow card and did little else the remainder of the match to earn a grade higher than this "below average" mark.
Although Cole wasn’t the reason Chelsea lost, his display was fairly uninspired and should have been better considering the importance of this match.
In fairness to Cole, Luiz Adriano’s shot, which fell perfectly to Teixeira, deflected off John Terry’s elbow. But that close to goal and in the box, a quality defender like Cole should have been marking his man much closer.
Chelsea’s captain returned to the lineup for the first time after accepting his punishment from the FA for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand and although he wasn’t atrocious, he just wasn’t that great either.
Terry played a part in the aforementioned first Shakhtar goal, which deflected off his elbow and created a perfect scoring opportunity right out of the gate for the home side.
One area Terry could have been a little better in was his leadership and organization of the Blues’ back four. Down 1-0 so early, one would expect a captain of his ilk to vocalize more and help tighten the defense up, but Shakhtar continued to dominate on offense most of the match, which, in turn, made it incredibly hard for Chelsea to ever get going offensively in front of the raucous crowd in Donetsk.
The fuzzy Brazilian always brings a great deal of energy for the Blues, but when he’s off, he’s really off.
As he has a tendency to do, Luiz—who also picked up a yellow card—again roamed too far up-field in an effort to be part of the offense and, like Cole, often left too much space between himself and the man he was covering.
It’s hard to blame manager Roberto Di Matteo for this trait of Luiz’s, but he should take some of the responsibility, as this has been happening for at least a year now and he should be telling the defender to "stay home" more.
A central defender is a bad guy to have drifting up-field, especially against a game opponent like Shakhtar at home, so maybe renting a Goodyear blimp with a message saying, “You’re a center-back, not a midfielder” is something all us fans can chip in and pay for.
And with a talent like Gary Cahill on your bench, with so many tough games on the schedule this month and in the future, Di Matteo would be wise to give the former Bolton Wanderers star some more starts.
Branislav Ivanovic by far played the best game of all of the Chelsea defenders but was far from getting an "excellent" (A) grade on Tuesday.
The big Serb wasn’t perfect defensively, but few teams are against the creative attack of Shakhtar who have now beaten English opponents in four of its last five European meetings at Donbass Arena.
Like Luiz, Ivanovic roamed up-field frequently to try to be part of the offense but that is much more acceptable from a right-back or left-back on the wings.
Ivanovic did pick up a very nice assist on the Blues lone goal by Oscar late in the second half.
So tempted to give Frank Lampard a D+ here but it’s really not his fault Di Matteo chose to put him in the starting XI over Oriol Romeu or Ramires, who started on a wing in the attacking midfield at Shakhtar.
Lampard, who seems to look slower and older every match these days, re-injured his nagging calf and left the game just 17 minutes in, replaced by Eden Hazard.
Early reports indicate the injury was bad enough to the 34-year-old Englishman that he will likely miss the big English Premier League match against second-place Manchester United on Sunday at Stamford Bridge (Fox Soccer Channel, 11:00 a.m. ET/8:00 a.m. PT).
Having Lampard go out so early and Eden Hazard come in should have been a good thing for Chelsea’s overall speed and offensive attack, but it simply wasn’t.
The young Belgian—who had a tremendous start for the Blues in August and early September—seems to have come down to earth a bit of late and committed an awful turnover when he gave up the ball to Shakhtar early in the second half.
His gaffe led to Fernandinho’s goal, which made it 2-0 Shakhtar and pretty much put the game out of reach for the visitors who looked like they were chasing shadows all day.
Hazard did have four shots on target but his overall play deserves a C- as who knows what might have happened had he not turned the ball over with the Blues then only having to chase a one-goal deficit on the road in Ukraine.
Holding Shakhtar to one point while getting one point themselves would put Chelsea in a completely different mind-frame pressure-wise heading into the rematch on November 7 at Stamford Bridge, which now almost becomes a must-win situation for the Blues.
The attacking midfielder did have a nice dummy on Ivanovic’s pass that resulted in Oscar’s lone goal for the visitors, but his overall play was really below average by his standards.
No one on Chelsea’s roster receives more unjust blame than John Obi Mikel, and probably no one gets less credit for playing consistent and smart football than the 25-year-old Nigerian defensive midfielder.
While he wasn’t perfect against Shakhtar, Mikel did have two nice interceptions and did the best job on the pitch of all of the Blues in using his body to shield the ball from the opposition, something truly lacking in this game by the European champions who looked really out of sorts in the midst of their nice run in league play.
Mikel tried to score for Chelsea at the 68-minute mark of the second half but his shot sailed over the net.
Certainly not his best game, but Mikel was one of just four players worthy of deserving an above average grade for me in this nightmare in eastern Europe.
In a game where, apparently, only Brazilians were allowed to score, Oscar saved a little face with a late goal for the Blues. Other than that, Chelsea looked overmatched by the talented midfielders on Shakhtar.
The good thing about Oscar’s goal is it keeps the Blues level with group-leader Shakhtar in goal differential (+3), a statistic that may well come into play down the road in the tournament.
Halfway through this stage, the two teams now sitting below Chelsea in the Group E standings, Juventus (0-3-0, 3 points) and FC Nordsjaelland (0-1-2, 1 point), have 0 and -6 goal differentials respectively.
He’s been the maestro, the magician, the straw that stirs Chelsea’s drink and possibly a candidate for the Barclays Player of the Season so far, but on Tuesday, Shakhtar made Juan Mata look extremely mortal.
The guy who is so good at creating so many quality attempts on goal was almost invisible in this match, but with the home side dominating possession in the first half and then having the luxury of parking its own little black-and-orange bus in the second half after taking a 2-0 lead, it was hard for the diminutive Spaniard to really get anything of substance going.
The bewildered look on Mata’s face late in the game before taking a free kick absolutely said it all for Chelsea on Tuesday.
As has been the case more often than not since coming over from Liverpool, striker Fernando Torres looked a bit slow to and on the ball and looked lost at times.
While El Nino was certainly not to to blame for the loss at Shakhtar, his form regressed again to the point of being a liability and will certainly heat up efforts to get another striker for the Blues over the winter transfer market.
Torres did have three shots on target but none were really much of a threat, and when he possessed the ball, he often tried to do too much by himself and looked for his own shot instead of seeking out open teammates in the box.
Giving him a "below average" D seems appropriate as this is the same form that has drawn so much just criticism from the media and fans alike over the last two seasons.
Di Matteo replaced Torres with Daniel Sturridge late in the game but by that time it was already too late for Chelsea and the proverbial writing was already on the wall.
Daniel Sturridge came in as a substitute at the 70-minute mark and played a little better than Torres but in the end, it really didn’t matter.
Sturridge did have an attempt at the 81-minute mark, but his shot sailed over the bar. And he did feed Hazard with a nice pass in a rare decent scoring attempt for Chelsea, but Shakhtar goalkeeper Pyatov was up to the task.
With just 23 minutes on the pitch, Sturridge, who has been rumored by some to be on his way out of west London in the winter transfer window, was fairly average on Tuesday at Shakhtar but honestly, it’s hard to really judge him with so little playing time.
Instead of starting Ramires in the defensive-holding midfield spot where he's really been a breath of fresh air this season, Di Matteo elected to put the speedy Brazilian on a wing in the advanced midfield.
When Lampard went down with an injury early in the first half, it seemed that sticking with the Mikel-Ramires combination would have been a much better idea for such an important game.
Ramires didn't play as poorly as most of the rest of the starters, but he was definitely contained by Shakhtar defensively and graded out just slightly a little above average for me.
After falling behind so early, Chelsea seemed to play with an heir of desperation and displayed a really unimaginative offensive attack with way too many long, looping passes for potential headers that ended up in lost possessions.
This remarkable lack of patience has been a rare thing for the Blues lately, but chasing a talented team as fast and pesky as Shakhtar with players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Willian and Tomas Hubschman in The City of a Million Roses hasn’t proven to be too fruitful for any visitors over the last year against manager Mircea Lucescu and his boys.
As far as grading Di Matteo, I’d have to give the Italian a C-, as he employed a pretty poor strategy against a Shakhtar side that won the time of possession battle (54 percent to 46 percent) which looked much worse on television than it showed up on paper.
Di Matteo probably shouldn’t have started a recovering Lampard in such a crucial match and obviously failed to inspire the Blues at halftime when they were only down 1-0 despite being vastly outplayed over the first 45 minutes.
And although it was probably way out of his hands and so easy to say now, Di Matteo should have also probably fought tooth-and-nail over the summer with management not to let a clutch scorer and leader like Didier Drogba go, especially considering the legend’s value in hostile Champions League clashes like this one far away from home.
Up next for Chelsea in the tournament is a rematch with Shakhtar in west London on November 7, a trip to Turin to face Juventus—who drew its ninth straight continental match on Tuesday against FC Nordsjaelland (1-1)—on November 20 and the group stage finale at Stamford Bridge against FC Nordsjaelland on December 5.
If inclined, give me your own grades for the players below and let me know if you’re now a little bit worried about the Blues' chances of advancing on from this group stage.
But remember, bluebloods, it was just one game, Chelsea are still the defending European champions and Sunday’s home game against the Red Devils is probably just as important in the whole scheme of things this year for Blues fans.
And in the long run, it may just be a good thing for Chelsea to go into that Manchester United match with a healthy little chip on its shoulder.
Follow me on Twitter: @KevinStott11