With Andre Villas-Boas reverting to the so-called 'old guard' to secure three points against Bolton on Saturday, the temptation to say 'I told you so' is utterly overwhelming. However, as this is my debut post as ESPNSoccernet's Chelsea blogger, perhaps I should first briefly state the opinions that I have been making on my personal blog - ShoutyandSpitty.com - and to any fellow supporters within earshot.
Andre Villas-Boas' team selection for the Champions League match at Napoli - as every sane observer, whether Blue or neutral, will agree - was eye-opening, to say the least, almost bordering on the suicidal.
Instead of playing it safe by setting up a resolute back-line in the face of the celebrated triumvirate of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik by deploying players with considerable European pedigree, the manager almost torpedoed any chance of progression by leaving out competition stalwarts Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and – criminally – Michael Essien. Had Cole not cleared off the line in the closing stages, my £52 ticket for the home leg would have been good for confetti and little else.
His tenure in doubt and his credibility hanging by a thread, Villas-Boas then performed a volte face and drew on every ounce of experience at his disposal by turning to the notable absentees from the match at the Stadio San Paolo to do the job against the Trotters. The change of heart worked but it begs the question as to why he didn't select the same eleven four days earlier.
Yes, there have been reports of divisions in the camp and open criticism from some of the senior players in his squad but equally he could have challenged them to prove themselves against their Italian opponents. Had Chelsea emerged from Italy with a positive result, he could have taken the plaudits for having successfully provoked the best response from his complaining stars. Had they incurred the same fate as befell their stand-ins, he would have acquired added justification for leaving them out of his future plans.
Instead, he has now painted himself into a corner whereby everybody – players, fans, neutrals and journalists alike – is now of the unshakeable mindset that Chelsea lack solidity without the continual presence of the likes of Lampard, Essien and Cole in the starting eleven. It must be all the more galling for Villas-Boas as even the Academy team – perpetrators of a stunning comeback from a 3-0 half-time deficit in a FA Youth Cup tie at Nottingham Forest to eventually win 4-3 last week – would surely have easily dispatched Bolton, so poor were Owen Coyle's men.
The likes of the much (and deservedly) maligned Raul Meireles could have shone against their Lancashire visitors and cast themselves in a new light in front of the Stamford Bridge faithful. However, Villas-Boas had no choice but to crawl cap in hand to the cabal of disgruntled trophy-laden veterans to bring home the bacon.
With West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City (FA Cup replay) and Stoke City to face in the next three fixtures, one would expect the manager to shuffle the pack a little but even if those matches are won, all eyes will be on his team selection for the return match against Napoli.
If a Champions League exit ensues with Messrs Lampard, Essien and co not on the pitch at kick-off, Villas-Boas' teamsheet may well prove to be his death warrant.