The unifying theme of this breezy September night in west London was suffering from success, and raised expectations. The Champions League is - perhaps not unreasonably - seen as more of right than a privilege at Chelsea these days, and the club's recent price hike of group stage tickets seems ill-judged at a point which has an air of the routine to it, as thousands of empty seats attested.
Tuesday's win over Bayer Leverkusen was the eighth opening-match win in a run that now stretches to nine successive group stage qualifications. The odd one out was the September 2007 draw with Rosenborg at Stamford Bridge, which turned out to be Jose Mourinho's final match in charge.
So with safe passage expected, most eyes were trained on the expensive import intended to help sew things up at the business end of the competition. Chelsea are still waiting for Fernando Torres to show he can fulfill that hope, and if a dry spell in the Premier League since his arrival in the January window has created a crescendo of pressure upon him, the Champions League is the backdrop which defines his failure thus far.
Fernando Torres remains under pressure ot find the net, despite laying on Chelsea's two goals in the win over Bayer Leverkusen. (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)
When the Blues travelled to Old Trafford for the quarterfinal second leg back in April, then-boss Carlo Ancelotti put his chips on the £50m Torres to turn around the deficit from the home game. The currently-unemployed Italian might reasonably muse that the call went a long way to sealing his own departure. Torres struggled and was hooked for Didier Drogba at half-time, with the Ivorian talisman going on to score and briefly give Chelsea hope of a comeback, leaving many questioning Ancelotti's apparently misguided faith in Torres.
The comparison may be unfair given the two players' relative experience and the stats show the gap is more than just recent form. Torres' modest Champions League record encompasses 8 goals in 26 matches after drawing a blank against Leverkusen, while Drogba, absent on Tuesday, has 33 in 67.
Yet given Drogba's departure, as predicted by some, never materialized, it is finally clear that Torres must fight for his future, especially under a manager in Andre Villas-Boas who had no role in his arrival. Probably expecting a raft of hot questions, there was no post-match word from Torres himself, who strolled tight-lipped past waiting journalists wearing an unconvincing smile.
His performance against Robin Dutt's side defied definition. Once again he spurned presentable chances, although he was unlucky when he flicked home Juan Mata's cross in the opening minutes, only to see the goal ruled out for offside against Raul Meireles. There is a residual tension to his game, manifested in a frequently imprecise first touch and finish, but his willingness was clear, both in the clumsy challenge on Simon Rolfes that earned a ninth-minute booking and in the industry that created the night's goals for David Luiz and Juan Mata.
Certainly his commitment appears to have convinced the locker room. David Luiz and Petr Cech were both keen to praise Torres' contribution on their way out of the players' tunnel after the game, without any prompting. The Brazilian wandered from a question about Mata to crowbar in some supportive words for Torres, and captain-for-the-evening Cech was also keen to highlight the number nine's improvement.
It is no secret that the Champions League is the one remaining itch that owner Roman Abramovich wants to scratch, and a positive contribution from Torres in this year's edition could yet make his recruitment a success. Yet the continuing questions over his patchy form have not been helped by the story of Villas-Boas' "investigation" into Torres' comments supposedly criticizing his team-mates - something he denied and put down to true meaning being lost in translation.
Whatever the translation, let's not be mischievous. There is a considerable difference between saying the team's style is to "play very slowly" (as Torres did in an interview with the official La Liga website last week) and calling one's team-mates "slow" (as many seem to have suggested he said). Nobody can doubt the quality in the Chelsea squad, but its aging nature has been clear for some time, and is something that the club began to address with the signings of Torres and David Luiz.
It is a process that has continued with the recruitment of Mata, Oriol Romeu and Romelu Lukaku, as well as the accelerated integration of Daniel Sturridge into the first-team picture. In this sense, Torres is hardly straying from the party line. Some will say he has yet to earn the right to comment on Chelsea's tactics, but his opinion should be taken as just that, rather than an attempt to abdicate his own culpability in his struggles.
The retention of the 'old' Chelsea corresponds closely to what he underlined as a necessity when he was mulling over whether to stay in England, wondering aloud whether his body could cope with the stresses of the Premier League much longer. Drogba could be the ideal foil to take the physical pressure off him that he so dreads, despite the widely-held belief that the pair are incompatible. Many will point out that he mainly thrived at Liverpool alone up front, with a dynamic Steven Gerrard behind him, but there is an intrinsic paradox in what Torres does best, and what he considers would be best for him.
While he has gone on record a few times to voice concern about if he can continue to hold up, Torres' power and strength is exactly what has made him a Premier League success in the past, when he has bedeviled the country's leading center-backs, including Nemanja Vidic and his current skipper John Terry. Accepting being part of a newer, more dynamic Chelsea probably means understanding that he has to jettison the right to that desired protection.
While a player of prospective-signing Luka Modric's capabilities would obviously have been welcome, there is arguably already everything in Chelsea's midfield that Torres needs. Meireles' sweeping passes from deep can give the Spaniard plenty of opportunity to exploit his acceleration, and his countryman Mata's ability to manufacture space from either wing or a central position.
With the lively Sturridge the root of significant first-half problems for Leverkusen, the side is set to afford Torres more space than ever before. The gradual implementation of Villas-Boas' philosophy has seen a window of opportunity open for the fallen idol, and he seems to be recovering the determination to make the most of it.