Andre Villas-Boas and Chelsea enter crucial stage
The sight of a Chelsea fan marching into Stamford Bridge clutching a copy of "The Tibetan Art Of Positive Thinking" could be taken as a sign of these troubled times.
Not necessarily the normal pre-match reading at Chelsea - but these are not normal days at a club searching in vain for old powers and influence as Liverpool sent them emphatically out of the Carling Cup.
And whether it comes from Tibet or Tooting Bec, manager Andre Villas-Boas must find what he is looking for within the next seven days or risk further scrutiny from Chelsea's notoriously impatient owner Roman Abramovich.
Abramovich may not lose sleep over losing a Carling Cup quarter-final, but what will concern him is the obvious decline in Chelsea's performances in recent weeks and growing evidence of glaring weaknesses within their squad.
Winning the Champions League has been something beyond even the powers of Abramovich's mighty chequebook, turning it into the Holy Grail for the Russian. Whatever is missing, Villas-Boas needs to locate it before Valencia arrive at Stamford Bridge next Tuesday.
The Blues need a win or a goalless draw to progress to the familiar territory of the knockout phase. If they do not, both the club and their manager enter the realms of what it is safe to say would have been regarded as the unthinkable when he was appointed.
Villas-Boas was the fresh young face hand-picked by Abramovich to renew Chelsea and make the adjustments required to an ageing squad in need of reconstruction. To even suggest sacking him so soon - and without him having time to seriously address those changes - defies logic.
Villas-Boas faces a difficult run of matches in December. Photo - Getty
Abramovich's history, however, tells us that if something at Chelsea displeases him he will act swiftly and ruthlessly to tackle it. This is why a defeat for an under-strength Chelsea in a tournament that lies low on their priorities may not have far-reaching consequences for Villas-Boas - but an exit from the Champions League just might.
Even if this was a Chelsea side with a more youthful look than normal, Liverpool's supremacy and the manner in which they controlled this Carling Cup tie will have worried Villas-Boas.
The phrase "high defensive line" has been used as a catch-all cliche for Chelsea's problems. Forget the technical terms here though, this was just rank bad defending from a team turning it into a habit.
Liverpool rested their talisman Luis Suarez and had a turnaround time of only 48 hours from their meeting with Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday. And yet they were fresher, looked better conditioned and suggested they now possess a stronger all-round squad than Chelsea as they won at Stamford Bridge deservedly for the second time in 10 days.
One thing Villas-Boas admitted he is looking for is the real Fernando Torres. After a brief flickering of his finest form, the Spaniard has now regressed to the struggles of his earliest days in London.
Torres gave an almost apologetic performance against his former club, brushed aside by even the flimsiest of challenges and looking a shadow of a player who was once undoubted world-class.
Villas-Boas said Torres would "pursue his individual form". The problem, however, is where to start the search and it is unlikely to begin at Newcastle on Saturday, with Chelsea's manager more or less saying Torres would be back on the bench and replaced by Didier Drogba.
Those of us who have supported Torres in the face of evidence to the contrary must now consider whether he really has given his best to the Premier League. To call him a peripheral presence on Tuesday is to talk up his performance to a wildly exaggerated degree.
The Spaniard, like Chelsea, must go back in time and somehow find something of the former glories - preferably in time for the visit of his countrymen next week.
John Terry, Ashley Cole, Juan Mata and Drogba are all likely to be back and starting against Valencia, but there is an uncertainty and insecurity surrounding Chelsea that is already setting up next Tuesday as a night when Stamford Bridge will live on its nerves.
There were no such problems for Liverpool as their team coach pulled out of Stamford Bridge to the applause of supporters who have enjoyed victory on their last three visits.
There are real signs of development at Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish as they made it 11 games unbeaten in all competitions.
Dalglish is the scourge of Chelsea as he maintained an undefeated record against them in 13 games as Liverpool manager. As Liverpool did in their recent Premier League win, they probed Chelsea's weakness and merited the win courtesy of two goals in five minutes after half-time from Maxi Rodriguez and Martin Kelly.
And central to it all was Craig Bellamy. He was withdrawn from Liverpool's game against Manchester City by Dalglish on compassionate grounds following the death of his Wales manager Gary Speed and clearly found the minute's applause before kick-off deeply emotional moments.
Here he gave a performance worthy of his mentor, setting up both goals and walking off to a warm embrace from his manager when he was substituted with the game won.
Liverpool had other positives, too, including a fine performance from young Uruguayan defender Sebastian Coates, although the sight of Lucas being carried off with a knee injury will be a real concern given his outstanding form this season.
All the other worries were left to the Londoners - plenty of them and with not much time for Villas-Boas to find solutions.
Villas-Boas, in the middle of a lengthy dissection of Chelsea's recent poor run that has brought three defeats in four home games, announced: "I am not a wizard." Maybe not, but he must conjure up something in the next week to draw the sting from the current debate about his future.