There was to be no miracle in Munich this time.
Only another cold, cruel dose of reality for Chelsea, who for the second time this season discovered at the hands of Bayern Munich just how wide the chasm remains between them and Europe’s best.
In this first season under Frank Lampard, there has been so much to like, so many signs that better days lie ahead.
New faces such as Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner should speed up their journey. So would a less charitable back five. But for now the road remains long.
If the damage in this last-16 tie was done in February, when Bayern’s 3-0 win arguably flattered Chelsea, the Germans needed no invitation to rip open old wounds. Robert Lewandowski and Ivan Perisic soon stretched their aggregate lead before Tammy Abraham put Chelsea on the board. After Corentin Tolisso fired home and Lewandowski found a late fourth, six goals separated the two teams. That felt about right.
There should be no disgrace in this defeat, which brings the curtain down on a long, hard season for Chelsea. They won’t have to wait long for another crack but ultimately Lampard was right.
He insisted there was little Chelsea could take from iconic turnarounds or from their last trip here in 2012 – when he led them to European glory.
Instead these 90 minutes would tell their own story and after the ‘harsh lesson’ of the first leg, this showed how much Chelsea still have to learn.
‘It made it clearer how I see us – good and bad points – and where I want us to go,’ Lampard said. ‘It was disappointing to lose but we will be back.’
Lampard, who wants more new faces, added: ‘We don’t normally think finishing fourth is a good thing, that isn’t our level.’ But, he accepts, his side ‘have to be humble and work hard.’
Five-and-half months had passed since that demolition job at Stamford Bridge and the worrying thing for Chelsea? The mountain had only grown by kick-off.
Bayern had won every game since, while Chelsea had been depleted by injury and suspension.
One thing that hadn’t changed: not once in 92 previous European attempts had a team recovered from Chelsea’s plight to qualify.
The only glint of light? This was Bayern’s first competitive game since July 4. Unfortunately, any hopes the visitors had of catching them cold were dashed as Hansi Flick’s side reassumed control immediately and quickly extended their lead.
After 10 minutes, Thiago picked up possession inside his own half and within a few seconds, the visitors had been carved open. Serge Gnabry slid a pass into Lewandowski, who was brought down by Willy Caballero.
The referee said penalty, his assistant said offside. As sweat dried on Chelsea brows, the VAR overturned the decision once more. Penalty, yellow for Cabellero and Lewandowski’s 46th of the season.
The goal changed little for Chelsea. Instead it only heightened the sense of procession as Bayern twisted the knife.
Thomas Muller and Gnabry both had efforts from distance before their second came midway through the half. This time, Mateo Kovacic gave the ball away in midfield and Lewandowski pounced.
As Chelsea backed off and Bayern reinforcements arrived, the No 9 kept his nerve, waiting and waiting before feeding Perisic to score.
It was all so easy for Bayern and all so ominous for Lampard’s side. But Chelsea did at least respond and three minutes later Callum Hudson-Odoi curled a beautiful effort beyond Manuel Neuer. It was a fitting reminder of the talent that attracted the German giants’ attention last year. It was also not to be.
To add to Chelsea’s misery, the VAR decided Abraham had strayed offside. Fortunately for the Chelsea forward, he made amends shortly before the break – converting from close range after Neuer spilled Emerson’s low cross.
The tie was beyond them, of course, but the goal at least buoyed the visitors.
They began the second half with more confidence and ambition as in the final push of this exhausting season, Lampard’s side gave it one more roll of the dice.
Mason Mount was played in behind the Bayern defence but his effort from a tight angle was straight at Neuer.
The hosts then needed a brilliant last-ditch challenge from Thiago to deny Ross Barkley inside the area and, with those near misses, any lingering dreams of a turnaround faded further into the Bavarian sky.
Instead it was soon Flick’s side ruing more spurned chances.
Kurt Zouma blocked Alphonso Davies’ shot after Chelsea were cut open once more and then, on the hour, Thomas Muller volleyed over from close range.
In the closing stages, however, Bayern discovered their ruthless streak.
Lewandowski crossed for Tolisso’s third before heading a second of his own to cement Bayern’s place as one of the favourites heading into the Lisbon mini-tournament.
For Chelsea, meanwhile, a chance to rest. And perhaps another opportunity to watch and learn.
Chelsea visit the Allianz Arena to take on Bayern Munich in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 clash as they look to claw back from a three-goal deficit.
The Blues were left stunned pre-lockdown when a Serge Gnabry double and a Robert Lewandowski strike gave the German champions a commanding first leg advantage at Stamford Bridge.
But Chelsea have history when it comes to stunning their hosts, including in 2012 when they won the Champions League against Munich at the Allianz Arena.
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