LONDON • On a breathless Wednesday night at Stamford Bridge, the sight of Chelsea's captain, Gary Cahill, with his head heavily bandaged, painted a painful, poignant picture of the dishevelment of Chelsea's defence.
They let in three goals, and were grateful to the brilliance of Eden Hazard in stealing a point from an Italian opponent as full of sparks as a Roman candle.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte took the blame for his team's failure to protect their lead, when they threw away a two-goal advantage before scrambling a 3-3 draw with Roma in the Champions League.
The Blues led with goals by David Luiz and Hazard, but they ceded control as Aleksandar Kolarov and Edin Dzeko's double looked set to knock Conte's side off the top of Group C. Hazard's second of the night ensured they remain favourites to reach the last 16, but Conte was far from happy with what he had witnessed.
The Italian admitted to erring with his tactics, with the decision to push Luiz into central midfield resulting in the Blues surrendering the initiative to their expansive and impressive opponents.
"It's right to take the responsibility because I tried, on the one hand, to protect my team and make us more solid," the Italian said.
"We had three important players out injured - N'Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater and Victor Moses - and this situation gives us problems.
"It's three, not seven, but it's still an emergency situation for us. But on the other hand, we lost totally our style of football.
IMPROVEMENT IS IMPERATIVE
We must do better than we are doing now. I'm not going home happy.
ANTONIO CONTE, Chelsea coach, bemoaning his side's need to play better.
"I didn't like this. We were 2-0 up, but we were never in control of the game."
After successive Premier League defeats by leaders Manchester City and bottom club Crystal Palace, Conte would have cherished a dull 1-0 win against Roma to steady the ship.
Instead his side, so solid last season when winning the English Premier League title, looked worryingly vulnerable without the defensive screen provided by injured midfielder Kante.
It was the third time Chelsea had failed to win a Champions League match having enjoyed a two-goal lead - all at Stamford Bridge.
They still top the group with seven points and third-placed Atletico Madrid's surprise 0-0 draw with Qarabag means it would need a major Chelsea collapse for them not to finish in the top two.
Conte's unhappiness was not helped by Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho's criticism, all the way from Lisbon where United beat Benfica 1-0.
The Chelsea manager warned Mourinho to stop talking about the Blues after the Portuguese criticised managers who complain about injuries.
Conte has repeatedly mentioned his team's injury problems during their current winless run, even before the draw against Roma.
"I never speak about injuries. Other managers, they cry, they cry, they cry when a player is injured," Mourinho said after the 1-0 victory over Benfica.
When told of Mourinho's comments by a journalist, Conte asked if they were aimed at him.
When the response was yes, Conte bristled visibly before angrily telling the former Chelsea boss to mind his own business.
"If this is for me, my answer is this - he has to think of his team and look at himself, not the others," Conte fired back.
Chelsea have a fast turnaround before hosting high-flying Watford tomorrow when anything other than a win could see them losing touch with table-toppers City, who already have a nine-point lead and a far superior goal difference.
"We must do better than we are doing now," Conte added. "I'm not going home happy."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON