Bad enough for Roman to sell up

WHEN Roman Abramovich saw his first football match, he did not even need a goal to become smitten.

It was the Champions League classic between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford in 2002. United won 4-3 but lost 6-5 on aggregate with the Brazilian Ronaldo scoring a sublime hat-trick.

The stellar cast included Zidane, Figo, Carlos, Keane, Giggs and Beckham and on a magical night of pulsating football the Russian was instantly transfixed. After 10 goalless minutes, he told his companion, Avram Grant: "I want to buy a club."

We know the rest, but watching today's abject surrender by the club he bought, you wouldn't blame him for wanting to selling up.

This was the antithesis of pulsating. It was a night when household chores look a tempting alternative; watching paint-drying, lalang growing or bumpers rusting seem gripping in comparison.

Wherever he was in the world, the sense of wonder and excitement that coursed through his veins that night 16 years ago would have been nullified. Indeed, he would have been wondering if he was watching the same sport.

Gary Neville called Chelsea's tactics: "absolutely unacceptable", while Jamie Redknapp dubbed them: "Anti-football" and "a crime against football". Neither were exaggerating.

Had a Conference minnow done this in the FA Cup, it still would have been stiflingly dour, but at least they would have had an excuse. Here it was the champions who were doing it – and this after they'd appeared to have rediscovered their mojo against Barcelona and Manchester United.

They were unlucky not to get more out of both games, the woodwork cruelly denying them in each. And they are far from out of it against a less-than-vintage Barca in next week's return leg.

But you've got to hope that this was not a trial run for the Nou Camp. Ces Fabregas has already said that going there simply to defend would be "a suicide mission". This was a lily-livered acceptance of a beating and hoping it didn't hurt too much. It made you pine for a bit of VAR just to vary the torture!

In boxing, a fighter can be disqualified if the referee deems him not to be fighting: had such a rule existed in football, Michael Oliver would have been well within his rights to call the game off and award City the points.

Even when the darker Blues went behind, there was no discernible shift of gear and when the cavalry was called for, it was far too late.

Just what Olivier Giroud made of it is anyone's guess. Instead of joining the champions, he must feel he's joined a peace movement.

Alvaro Morata fared even worse. Asked to warm up, then stood down, then brought on with all of a minute to go, his treatment was downright humiliating; tactically it was beyond a joke.

If this was yet another not-so-subtle message to his employer, it stank. Abramovich would be justified in pulling the trigger and installing Carlo Ancelotti right away.

The older Italian is available, wants the job and lives in London. He's already been invited back as Abramovich's guest. Harshly sacked after doing the double, he deserves a second chance. And just might be the cool head this club badly needs.

As a fan of Conte, this comes as a shock but it looks like he's gone past the point of no return. The travelling fans were badly let down and if Morata feels aggrieved, what of Eden Hazard? Again played as a False 9, this time he was so isolated, he wasn't just false, he was fictitious.

Wasting your star player like that was inexplicable. The Belgian had just eight touches in the first 40 minutes of a game in which City made 902 passes in total, Ilkay Gundogan making 167 of them. It could only increase the chances of Hazard leaving for Real Madrid.

With Thibaut Courtois also likely to head to the Bernabeu, another Chelsea title-winning side could be about to disintegrate. Conte warned against a 'Mourinho season' but he's presiding over one that isn't a whole lot better.

Pep Guardiola recently said that "Conte would leave something behind in England". He will. Like that other beleaguered London manager, his has been a reign of two distinct halves. But where Arsene Wenger is about decades, Conte is creating and destroying his legacy in single seasons.

If only he'd shown the defiance he mustered after the game to take on his critics, Chelsea may have had a chance. He branded them all "stupid", but that is what Jurgen Klopp said of "standing on the box hoping to win the lottery".

Conte claims he doesn't have the firepower of Liverpool but he has Hazard and Willian besides either Morata or Giroud as a No.9. He deployed his players like mannequins on a damage limitation exercise - an incredible admission about the gulf between the two clubs.

These are clubs that are often bracketed together as nouveau riche and who have spent similar amounts on players. Last season Chelsea did the double over City and the pivotal moment was when Kevin de Bruyne hit the bar from two yards.

Instead of a 2-0 lead, City went and lost 3-1. Perhaps the gap between them was not as great as the final points tally indicated. But right now it seems a massive gulf has developed. Even so, it doesn't excuse accepting defeat before they kicked off.

Like Mike Ashley, Abramovich finds himself competing with a country. Chelsea must hope his recent loss of interest and reduced backing does not mean that he's going to turn Chelsea into Newcastle. We saw what happened to them against Liverpool with similar tactics on Saturday. Suicide mission just about sums it up.

Bob's latest book, Living the Dream, is available at MPH, Borders, Popular, Kinokuniya and Gerakbudaya book stores. Bob will be signing copies of the book at the "Be Bodog's Best Football Pundit" contest at the Backyard Pub & Grill, 28, Jalan Sri Hartamas 8, Taman Sri Hartamas on Saturday, March 10 before the Man Utd vs Liverpool game.

Good, Bad, Ugly and Stupid

GOOD: Brighton
Close to oblivion a few years ago and playing on borrowed grounds, the Seagulls have soared through the divisions, have a fine stadium and are more of a team than Arsenal. They deserved to beat the leaderless prima donnas and have a fighting chance of staying up.

BAD: Arsenal
What a week! Two hammerings by City and their humiliation at Brighton was just as predictable. Ozil has disappeared now he's got his new contract and the Dortmund duo of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan are not delivering. It has the ominous feel of a manager having lost the dressing room.

UGLY: Everton
The Toffees are in a mess and Big Sam is in trouble. At Burnley, Everton fell to a sixth successive away defeat in all competitions and the travelling support called for Allardyce to go. His baffling tactics and substitutions have stretched their patience beyond breaking point. "You're just a fat, greedy b***ard," they shouted at their erstwhile saviour.

STUPID: Antonio Conte
He called his critics "stupid" but stupid is as stupid does. It was not parking the bus, it was surrender and he didn't change it when they went behind. At the very least he should reimburse the travel expenses of Chelsea's fans – their journey was completely unnecessary.