Roberto Di Matteo can appear phlegmatic at the worst of times though the five o'clock shadow he sported en route to Italy betrayed a man with too much on his mind. The season has yet to stretch into a fifth month but, already, Chelsea are stumbling leaving the management to pluck positives from livid dressing room inquests into sloppy and unacceptable underachievement.
There were raised voices at the Hawthorns on Saturday, when their winless Premier League sequence was extended to four matches and suggested a team in retreat. "We demand a lot of ourselves, and expect a lot of ourselves," said Di Matteo. "We were very disappointed and frustrated. We all want to see a reaction." One is required in Turin on Tuesday where defeat to Juventus, the team clear at the top of Serie A, would leave Chelsea on the brink of becoming the first Champions League holders to fail to escape the group stage in their defence. That would be groundbreaking, though for all the wrong reasons.
Other elements of this story are depressingly familiar. The hierarchy are twitchy behind the scenes, that long-standing interest in Pep Guardiola unsettling, even if a draw on Tuesday and victory against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Sunday would still feel restorative. Until recently, the current scenario would have been made for Chelsea, a side who revelled in taking on adversity and battering it into submission. Yet, while Di Matteo stressed his team have proved "many times before we can put in a big performance", things are different now.
Last year, when progress had initially been threatened by a slack away record in the group and was then regularly tested during the slug-fest of the knockout, the London club had been driven forward by fighters. John Terry and Frank Lampard had mustered those around them. Didier Drogba had rediscovered his battering ram best. Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic had refused to wilt, and the older heads had bolstered the newer personnel to conjure their miracle in Munich six months ago. Their success at the Allianz Arena felt fated.
Now, though, the onus is on others to summon the response, their natural response an unknown. Leaders are being sought if this team is to shrug itself out of its stutter. "But we still have plenty of experienced players in the team," insisted Di Matteo. "Petr Cech is there. We have Ivanovic, Mikel John Obi who has been playing for many years, and Juan Mata. There are plenty of players who can be leaders, and we'll need everybody to show it in a game like this." Yet their combined efforts could not beat Swansea, Liverpool or West Bromwich Albion in recent weeks. Should they shrink on Tuesday, then the defence could be over.
Other clubs would crave the problems with which Chelsea currently contend, and their run of games always appeared daunting, though fragility has been exposed by fading confidence. Chelsea can appear defensively brittle, which could be ignored when goals were pilfered for fun over the opening weeks but has undermined them recently. Di Matteo has suffered by being denied a regular back-line combination, the loss of Terry through injury, suspension and then injury again denying him a lynchpin. The captain's authority is missed at times like these, with Gary Cahill's a more assured presence in his company.
David Luiz may delight with his wide-eyed extravagance, an asset when opponents are quaking in arrears, but he is too unpredictable. Arguably Di Matteo's most assured centre-half in Terry's absence is Ivanovic though, by moving him inside, further reliance is thrust upon the unknown quantity that is César Azpilicueta. Regardless, the more flamboyant approach has afforded all combinations very little cover from central midfield. Ramires strains at the leash whenever employed deep, Lampard is sidelined and Oriol Romeu's progress feels stalled, leaving Mikel pivotal. Yet, if the Nigerian does impose authority on the hosts at the Juventus stadium, it will feel like a watershed moment.
Yet it is the forward line that draws the focus. While the watching world gasped at the conveyor-belt of chances Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar generated in the autumn, thrilling at the sheer brilliance of their dazzling inter-play, their inclusion has sometimes come at the expense of the team's overall balance. Full-backs have felt lonely while forward-thinkers remain up-field. Any team counterattacking against Chelsea at pace has benefited, with the freedom granted the trio to meander from flank to centre at a whim confusing matters when the ball is surrendered. Chelsea are wonderfully refreshing to watch, but that is because they can be sprung as often as they spring themselves.
The biggest sense of deflation has surrounded the man that trio were supposed to supply. Fernando Torres deflected Andriy Pyatov's attempted clearance into the net a fortnight ago, but that remains his only reward since the first week in October. There remains industry to the Spaniard's game, but too often his runs are predictable and tracked. The jeers from the stands that accompanied his display at the Hawthorns reflected bewilderment that a striker of his pedigree could fail to prosper with these creative talents around him. Six goals in 18 appearances this term represents an improved ratio as a Chelsea player to date, but the manager is entitled to expect more.
Everything had been geared towards eking form from the forward. He was offered the chance to succeed Drogba and remind the world why Chelsea paid a British record £50m to secure his services 23 months ago, and he had started the season so promisingly. Yet that form has dried up. There were autograph hunters waiting for Torres at Turin airport on Monday, a gaggle of fans seeking to have their photograph alongside the Spaniard in arrivals, but his star feels on the wane.
Radamel Falcao, the scourge of this team in the Super Cup in August, feels a more natural fit and will be targeted when the transfer window opens in January, even if his arrival would have implications for those already here. Daniel Sturridge remains on Liverpool's radar even if, for now, he arguably offers a more of a threat than Torres for the frontline. Yet that is for the future. Minds must focus on emerging unscathed from Turin. Elimination over the next month would have serious implications for all involved.