A jarring demonstration of the difference between the Chelsea of last season and this came shortly after the half hour in an opening 45 minutes of fruitless dominance against Southampton in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
At this stadium last May, Chelsea were reduced to 10 men but equalised against Arsenal in the final. Diego Costa sent an opportunistic strike spinning past David Ospina and, even though he had no involvement, David Luiz charged into the goal after the ball and shook the netting around in a celebratory fury.
Of course, Antonio Conte's men went on to lose 2-1 and it was the last we ever saw of Costa's simmering malevolence in a Chelsea shirt. Things have never been quite the same ever since.
In the 33rd minute on a scorching Sunday afternoon in the capital, Willian spotted Cesar Azpilicueta's clever near-post run and the Spain defender glanced on a deft header. The Southampton defenders stood motionless waiting for a finishing touch that never came. No Chelsea player shaking the netting, no-one in blue even close enough to consider it.
Conte's men got there in the end – Olivier Giroud doing a passable impression of Costa's tenacity as Southampton emerged in body but not mind for the second half to set in motion a 2-0 victory – but where a sleek winning machine was once enviably well oiled, it too often clunks and splutters at inopportune moments.
Eden Hazard is the usual exception. The Belgium star illuminated an otherwise forgettable first half with flashes of his balletic brilliance, a fleeting reminder of happier times for Conte as he becomes the latest Chelsea boss apparently bound for a truncated tenure.
A sharp sixth-minute one-two with Giroud was followed by an impish spin away from Mario Lemina before Hazard scythed a statement of intent from 20 yards just over.
He strode forward majestically to tee up Willian for a rasping left-footed shot against the crossbar, the closest Chelsea came before the break.
If offering Hazard that much space was ill-advised, Southampton had little joy at close quarters either when faced with the effervescent playmaker.
In a tight spot on the left flank, he spun into space to pick out Cesc Fabregas and darted through the bodies on to a return pass. The cutback from the byline had a little too much heat for Giroud.
But any striker operating in front of Hazard in this mood knows the assist will surely come. It did 27 seconds after half-time. Chelsea's number 10 brought down a raking pass to wobble a disorganised Southampton defence. Using a combination of determination, composure and nimble footwork, Giroud scattered all around him like bowling pins to prod into an unguarded net.
22 - Olivier Giroud has had a hand in 22 goals in his 26 FA Cup appearances (15 goals, 7 assists), more than any other player in the competition since his debut in January 2013. Dancing. pic.twitter.com/CiB4xUSZLZ— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 22, 2018
Repeating a 2018 theme, Chelsea were unable to pull decisively clear – Hazard curling just wide on the break and forcing Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to push over either side of an audacious "rabona" cross – and endured an anxious moment or two before Giroud's replacement, the much-maligned Alvaro Morata, nodded them into a final date against Manchester United.
That showdown against bitter rival Jose Mourinho will be a fitting conclusion to a campaign that has felt like one prolonged argument from Conte. The sight of Chelsea burning through another manager also seems a terrible waste.
Last term, Conte caught an all-star coaching cast of Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino cold. Now, that quartet are a year further into their work having made evident progress while Chelsea and Conte are wandering headlong into a state of flux.
The club will do well to appoint a successor as talented as the former Italy and Juventus boss while, with Thomas Tuchel reportedly cosying up to Paris Saint-Germain and Zinedine Zidane's latest European assault likely to spare him at Real Madrid, what better job can Conte walk into? Does going over old ground with the Azzurri really appeal?
Too much has probably been said and done by this point to pull back from the brink but there are worse ways for Antonio Conte to spend his time than enjoying the gift of Hazard's artistry and helming another title assault.
18 de agosto 2018
|Pochettino pledges to protect Kane|
|Federer relieved to ´hang tough´ in Cincinnati|
|De Bruyne injury: Can Foden or Diaz replace Man City playmaker?|
|Furyk confident as Team USA takes shape|
|Neymar´s behaviour deserves praise, Tite claims|
|Scherzer, Harper lead Nationals past Marlins|
|Djokovic and Federer join Cilic, Goffin in Cincinnati semis|
|Federer outlasts recovering Wawrinka|
|WATCH: Djokovic wins match, loses car|
|Bolt arrives in Sydney for A-League trial|
|Red-hot Bertens beats Svitolina, Halep marches on|
|Snedeker preserves Wyndham lead|
|Halep hits back to torment Tsurenko|
|Raonic fails to break Djokovic stranglehold|
|Emery seeks more ´demanding´ Ozil|
17 de agosto 2018
|CAF Champions League Review: Wydad, Al Ahly & TP Mazembe qualify|
|Stephen Curry wants to finish his career with Warriors|
|Hazard among Europe´s best but can improve, says Sarri|
|Tigers boost top-two hopes, Giants close in on fourth|
|Birmingham City 0 Swansea City 0: Monk´s men held despite dominance|
|Inter taking legal action against Tebas over Modric transfer comments|
|Serie A transfer round-up: Zaza joins Torino, Parma sign Gervinho|
|Roma chief Pallotta makes light of De Laurentiis claim|
|Federer starts double-header by seeing off resilient Mayer|
|Ospina joins Napoli on loan from Arsenal|
|Klavan completes Cagliari switch|
|Djokovic holds out against Dimitrov as Raonic awaits|
|New dates confirmed for postponed Serie A fixtures|
|Halep breezes past Barty to set up Tsurenko clash on same day|
|Olesen unable to capitalise on strong start as Jamieson, Waring go clear|
|Hoffenheim tie Kramaric to four-year deal|
|Mina to miss Southampton clash while Gomes is ´weeks´ away|
|Barcelona coach Valverde dismisses Pogba speculation|
|Valverde not prioritising Champions League over defending Barcelona´s LaLiga title|
|Allegri thanks outgoing Juventus icon Marchisio|
|Pants display from Beef? Johnston forced into change of trousers in Sweden|
|Tour champion Thomas has Welsh velodrome named in his honour|
|Gloucester surprised and disappointed by RFU´s swift Cipriani charge|
|Storm skipper Smith´s back injury not ´too serious´|
|Spurs fixture switch doesn´t appeal to Guardiola|
|Brazil call up Andreas Pereira & Arthur but omit Man City stars|
|Mbappe returns to PSG squad, Kehrer set for debut|
|No Messi in Argentina squad as Simeone wins first call-up|
|England man Roy embarrassed by self-inflicted facial injury|
|Atletico Madrid fined for breaching third-party regulations|
|Cipriani charged by RFU after common assault conviction|
|No contact, no negotiation - Leonardo denies AC Milan deal for Milinkovic-Savic|
|Kovacic set for Chelsea debut against Arsenal|
|Fury´s father restrained as Wilder crashes Pianeta weigh-in|
|Kohli and Bumrah fit for win-or-bust Test|
|Stokes ready and desperate to help England, says Root|
|Salah, Mane and Firmino not in competition says Klopp|
|Darmian staying at Manchester United, says Mourinho|
|Guardiola cites fatigue as factor for stricken De Bruyne|
|Kovac approves Rudy departure from bloated Bayern midfield|
|Klopp insists no player leaves without his approval amid Klavan rumours|
|Real Madrid complain to FIFA over Inter´s alleged Modric approach|
|Mourinho ´has never been so happy´ with unsettled Pogba|
|Manly implode amid Barrett uncertainty, Storm´s Smith injured|
|Sarri certain Hazard is staying at Chelsea|
|Liverpool, Champions League, Manchester derby - The matches De Bruyne will miss due to injury|
|Campbell joins Frosinone from Arsenal on permanent deal|
|Schalke sign Lille´s Mendyl to end left-back hunt|
|Stokes back in England team as Curran drops out|
|Ronaldo doesn´t guarantee Juventus the title, warns Allegri|
|Tuchel keen to guide PSG star Mbappe after World Cup heroics|
|Yuri: I can see Neymar joining Real Madrid|
|Milan pounce for Castillejo as Bacca joins Villarreal permanently|
|De Bruyne to miss three months for Manchester City|
|Manchester City talent Arzani completes Celtic loan|