STAMFORD BRIDGE, London — Guus Hiddink was making light of Diego Costa’s post-match antics on Wednesday, but his quip about the perspex in the Chelsea tunnel that his striker punched work on a few levels.
“We can fix it easy,” joked the Chelsea boss when he was asked about any damage Costa may have caused when he lashed out in frustration en route to the dressing room.
If only Hiddink’s problems at Stamford Bridge could be solved that simply. Repairing a damaged tunnel is one thing; saving Chelsea’s season quite another.
Despite being the better team for long spells against West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday, Chelsea showed their true colours at Stamford Bridge. Reigning champions they may be, but Chelsea have become a mid-table team.
A 2-2 draw with West Brom shouldn't be scoffed at. When teams are down where Chelsea find themselves, scrapping for every point, a draw against your rivals should be taken as a positive.
It’s par for the course, with rookie mistakes denying Chelsea back-to-back league victories for the first time in 2015/16.
Unlucky for some, 13 was even more so for Chelsea.
Twice they were in a winning position and twice Chelsea allowed the Baggies back into it. First it was Pedro when he lost possession inside his own half on 33 minutes; when James McClean found himself in acres of space with just four minutes remaining, he made no mistake to level.
On each occasion West Brom's equaliser came 13 minutes after Chelsea gone ahead.
We’re not talking in isolation here. The problems Hiddink witnessed on Wednesday evening have plagued Chelsea all season.
Old manager, new manager—they keep recurring.
For a team built to play on the counter-attack, Chelsea are much too wasteful when they catch teams on the break. They enter the final third devoid of ideas and that lack of conviction from the players is palpable.
Hiddink admitted as much himself.
"At the end I think it was a fair result," the Dutchman explained. "But at the end of the first half we had a good chance, a few chances to make it 2-0, which didn't happen. Then we conceded a little bit of an unfortunate goal by allowing them to penetrate too easily.
"They were rather easy goals that they scored. We had some chances to take the lead, but OK, the result is the result."
The observer is never confident this team will kill their opponents off. When Chelsea are in commanding positions, that same lack of confidence in where they are headed is the same.
Too often they have been in control of matches and let things slip this season.
The win at Crystal Palace 10 days ago was an anomaly. Chelsea had the look of 2014/15 Chelsea about them at Selhurst Park, and it deceived us slightly.
So convincing were they in that 3-0 victory, we thought things may have actually changed. It felt different.
The issue is that appearances can be deceiving. All season we've convinced ourselves we’re watching the reigning champions and by default, things will change sooner or later.
What we must realise is that Chelsea are the embodiment of a mid-table side now. They’re in this position for a reason.
They lack consistency, failing to build on positive displays and are erratic. As impressive and clinical as they were against Palace, they were equally wasteful against West Brom.
Like at Old Trafford over the Christmas period, when the game was there for the taking, they didn't have the capabilities to seize the moment.
Winning matches isn't about luck. The best teams, even when they struggle in periods, realise the moments they can pounce and more often than not, they do.
Take Chelsea last season, when they were relentless in punishing teams. Now they can’t do it regularly enough to win matches that will get them moving rapidly up the table.
And when teams create that habit, they take on the mid-table persona. They’re good, but not quite good enough.
It’s the same with teams like Everton, who Chelsea will face on Saturday in a mid-table face-off. For all the positive spin Roberto Martinez likes to put on his team, they continue to flatter to deceive.
Like Chelsea, they have match-winners, but those players do not do it regularly enough to give Everton any real credibility to pose a serious threat on the top four, let alone the Premier League trophy.
When we consider their Capital Cup run, it reinforces the idea. They can do it in one-off moments, but Everton can't sustain it over a period of matches. If they could, they would be serious contenders.
Chelsea find themselves in similar territory. They've been broken down this season, stripped back to reveal a tender underbelly.
There isn't enough of anything anymore. There isn't enough leadership or desire; the quality simply isn't there.
Hiddink has a big task in transforming this team and it’s going to take him a long while yet. There will be peaks along the way, but results like Wednesday's draw with West Brom will remind us of just where the club finds itself.
Chelsea are mid-table in every sense, and it’s about time we stopped kidding ourselves that they’re not.
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