Despite immeasurably superior quality, a higher-profile manager, untold wealth and being afforded a penalty, Chelsea weren’t good enough to beat Maribor and nail down a Champions League last-16 berth.
Courtesy of their 1-1 draw in Slovenia – their second in Group G in total – defeat away at Schalke, now managed by Stamford Bridge favourite Roberto Di Matteo, will see the Gelsenkirchen club usurp Jose Mourinho’s men from their seat at the summit.
Should the German outfit achieve the feat, then best Maribor in their final fixture, they’ll be guaranteed to qualify ahead of the Blues, leaving them (at best) at the mercy of the last-16 draw.
Sporting Lisbon’s west London sojourn brings the curtain down on Chelsea’s pre-Christmas campaign, so they should have no trouble progressing even if Di Matteo has his vengeance at the Veltins Arena next time out.
After achieving what none of the lauded coaches to have come before or after him was capable of doing – winning Roman Abramovich his first Champions League – the Italian was given the boot at the first possible opportunity the following season.
Not only did Di Matteo ensure Chelsea’s name was etched onto Ol’ Big Ears for the first time (which he did with one of the weakest Blues teams of the previous decade), he compounded this herculean effort with an FA Cup win too.
It then took a summer of deliberation for Abramovich to eventaully hand him the reigns on a permanent basis (for RDM was only caretaker gaffer when he guided the club to Europe’s seat of power) and, as soon as their Champions League involvement was terminated the following term, the Russian dispensed with his services.
Now fate has handed Di Matteo the opportunity to avenge this grave injustice.
Should he do so and condemn Chelsea to second place, there’s a possibility they’ll be drawn to play Real Madrid, FC Bayern Munchen or last season’s conquerors Atletico Madrid in the last-16 stage.
Whoever they pull out, the tie is certain to be a tricky one and it’s well worth dabbling on the 91/100 that the Bridge dwellers are eliminated from the competition at the first knockout hurdle.