Chelsea may just be clinging on to a place in the Premier League's top four despite the handicap of their summer transfer ban - but step into the rarefied atmosphere of the Champions League and they are brutally exposed.
And how they had their flaws shown up in the most emphatic fashion as they were taken apart far more emphatically by Bayern Munich than the 3-0 scoreline suggests in a Champions League last-16 first-leg tie that concluded in funereal silence at Stamford Bridge.
It reflected the mood. This tie is over. Chelsea can concentrate on the top four and the FA Cup fifth-round meeting with Liverpool here in seven days' time. The Champions League dream has gone.
Football may produce the odd miracle but rarely on the scale Chelsea will require and while you can hardly say it is a mercy in the face of such a merciless destruction, they can count themselves very fortunate they will travel to Munich only three goals down.
Chelsea actually did well to navigate a way out of a Champions League group containing last season's semi-finalists Ajax and Valencia. This, however, is the end of the road.
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Chelsea and manager Frank Lampard have made a fair fist of it in the Premier League despite not being able to buy players in the summer and losing their stellar performer, Eden Hazard, to Real Madrid.
Optimism was high after Saturday's win against Tottenham put them back in control of their top-four destiny but the ominous opening minutes here put a stop to all that.
Bayern may not have scored but the manner in which they delivered early dominance flagged up that this was going to be a very long night for Lampard and his players. Stamford Bridge sensed it. Chelsea sensed it. They would not be able to keep Bayern at bay.
And so it proved as Serge Gnabry, the former Arsenal forward who scored four times in a 7-2 win at Tottenham in the group stage, flourished in London once more with two goals and the deadly Robert Lewandowski added a third.
It demonstrated in stark fashion just how far Chelsea are adrift of Europe's elite. They won the Europa League under Maurizio Sarri last season but this is another level.
Chelsea, on nights like this, look like a team and club that was unable to inject class into their squad because of that summer transfer sanction and decisive months now lie ahead in the markets for Lampard and those behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge.
This was a club, fuelled by owner Roman Abramovich's ambition and finance, that lived comfortably in the Champions League for years, driving into the later stages and reaching two finals, losing to Manchester United in 2008 and winning in the most dramatic fashion against Bayern at the German team's own ground four years later.
It may be hard to take but the last 16 is probably their current true level. The development of other clubs and their own inability to renew their squad with quality last summer has seen to that.
Abramovich remains ambitious. He has always seen this competition as the Holy Grail but he may need to dip heavily into those deep pockets to restore his club to former glories.
They are not Premier League challengers in the face of Liverpool and Manchester City's supremacy and they are no longer a consideration as Champions League contenders.
If Chelsea reach the top four this season it will be considered success in the circumstances, while the FA Cup remains on the agenda.
Chelsea are now cast in Europe's "B-list" and must rely on the pull of the club still being strong enough to add the quality Lampard desperately needs, with Ajax's Hakim Ziyech already signed up for next season.
This thrashing, which is what it was in reality, was the harshest of lessons for the young players Lampard has counted on so heavily this season.
Reece James, at 20, has huge promise as a right-back but this was one of his toughest nights as Bayern made it their business to target his side, all three goals coming from that direction. He will flourish for Chelsea but he will simply have to put this one in the bank and learn from it.
Mason Mount never gave up and he will also be educated by these 90 minutes, watching the sharp operators he was up against in the Bayern side such as Thomas Muller and Thiago Alcantara.
Chelsea's young brigade were not helped by their more experienced team-mates, although Mateo Kovacic was an exception, rightly being singled out by Lampard.
Jorginho may also be singled out by Lampard but not for the same complimentary reasons, getting a yellow card for dissent in a moment of crass stupidity that rules him out of the second leg and a midfield also missing the injured N'Golo Kante.
The game was up when Marcos Alonso was sent off for clashing with Lewandowski.
Lampard has an additional concern in that there was actually plenty of battle-hardened experience in this Chelsea side in figures such as Jorginho, Alonso, Cesar Azpilicueta, Olivier Giroud and Antonio Rudiger but they were still woefully inadequate in the face of Bayern's quality.
Ross Barkley was given another chance in an unchanged Chelsea line-up but he had a poor evening and was actually fortunate to even come out for the second half considering they were already all at sea and hanging on at half-time and Willian was on the bench.
Chelsea and Lampard, perfectly understandably, will make all the right noises about the second leg in Munich but this is a hopeless assignment. It will be a damage limitation exercise of sorts seeing as so much was done here at Stamford Bridge.
The mission is now to finish in the top four then use the attraction of the Champions League to rebuild and plan for the long haul.
Failure to do so will mean the road back stretches out even further, as proved by the way in which they were dismantled by Bayern Munich.