Phil Neville believes the person behind the decision to sell Nemanja Matic to Manchester United deserves to be sacked.
The 29-year-old, who arrived back in August for £40m, produced yet another indomitable midfield display under Jose Mourinho as Manchester United all but sealed their place at the top of Group A with a 2-0 win over Benfica.
Chelsea, on the other hand, conjured up a brittle display against Roma, with defensive errors and a general lack of firmness at the core of their play culminating in a 3-0 defeat.
And Neville, speaking after both games, was quick to point towards the huge Matic-shaped hole in Chelsea’s midfield.
“What’s gone wrong for Chelsea?” he asked. “One word. Matic.”
“It’s as simple as that. The minute they sold Nemanja Matic was a mistake.
“When you had Matic sat in front of you, alongside [N’Golo] Kante, there was protection. Whoever made that decision needs sacking. That is one of the poorest decisions I have ever seen in the Premier League.
“If you ask any of those Chelsea players who they would want back, they would say Matic. Chelsea replaced him with someone who is going to do the same job – Bakayoko is not that player, he is not a holding midfield player.
“They didn’t replace Matic. I wouldn’t have let him out of the building, I would have chained him to the training ground walls.”
Chelsea are hardly short of quality options in midfield. N’Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater, Cesc Fabregas and even David Luiz all offer something valuable in the middle, and with all those options available you would hardly want to think of Chelsea’s midfield as porous.
And yet, at the same time, you still feel as if they have lost something that can’t be replaced. Matic provides more than just solidity; he actively diffuses situations and bends them in your favour through the way he handles the ball. In times of disorder, his presence is salutary.
The watching world will look on with interest to see whether Conte’s men feel his absence against United this weekend.