For about 15 minutes, they looked like they were fulfilling the tag line of reigning FA Cup and Champions League champions. They looked like they were moving through the Championship with the simplest of ease—like they were playing a side that was several divisions beneath them.
The Blues, in that time, showed that they can be a top team in world football this year; that they possess the skill to compete with the best in 2013.
Yet for far too much of this match and for far too much of the season for Rafa Benitez's liking, Chelsea still looked vulnerable and not in control of their future.
They looked unstable at the back and without a rudder in attack—swaying all over the place with their main man, Fernando Torres, continuing to struggle up front. El Nino has now scored just one goal in his last 1,131 minutes of play across all competitions, and that came against a League One side.
Though it is more than just Torres struggling for the Blues. It's an entire team thing that despite the brilliance of Eden Hazard and Oscar in attack—especially in this one—the West London club don't look to have the solidity and dogged determination that they did last year.
They're not fighting like they did to win the FA Cup; they're certainly not showing the heart that they did to beat Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Napoli. Not that Chelsea's zeal or passion needs to be questioned here—just the energy they're displaying when they run out on to the pitch every week.
'Boro are good, but Chelsea should have romped this match.
Simply put, if this is a world-class team with world-class players (which it has), then the Blues should have won five or six goals to nil. It should have been like watching Swansea City play Bradford City in the Capital One Cup—that's how obvious the gap in class should have been.
Their inability to break through in the first half and maintain defensive solidity showed that this is a team that is not traveling well.
Sure they won, and sure they netted two nice goals in the process, but at the end of the day, Chelsea inspired no confidence in themselves here going forward this year—much like they have done across every competition they have entered in 2013.
The Champions League ended with elimination; the English Premier League title is out of reach and its top-four spot even looking a little under siege.
They were kicked out of the Capital One Cup by Swansea—beaten 2-0 on their home ground—and have churned out less-than-impressive performances to just sneak through to the FA Cup and the UEFA Europa League, both against smaller teams.
For a squad with the depth of talent and the proven skill to dismantle teams at will, the results are simply not good enough for the Blues in 2013.
Their manager will seemingly pay the price, but the onus must also remain on the players, who too must also be held accountable for their failings.
Either way, Chelsea aren't convincing anybody in 2013—not in the Premier League, not in English competitions and certainly not in European ones either. All they have done is shown vulnerability and the potential to be exposed by disciplined, organized units.
Manchester United await in the FA Cup quarterfinals.
What did you make of the Blues' FA Cup victory over Middlesborough?
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