Chelsea were outthought and ultimately knocked out as Jose Mourinho continued his near unblemished run at Stamford Bridge.
It was a night when before kick off every eye and camera lens was focussed on the Portuguese coach, and he got what he wanted as Samuel Eto’o’s late strike dumped the Blues out.
It was the third campaign running that Didier Drogba left the Champions League in disgrace as he was sent off late on for a stamp on Thiago Motta, who’d already spent most of the evening rolling on the deck.
That was Inter’s tactic, to frustrate and provoke Chelsea, and it couldn’t have worked any better.
Carlo Ancelotti was completely outmanoeuvred, and for all but the last 10 minutes of the first half, Chelsea were comfortably second best.
Ballack shot just wide and Motta cleared an Anelka effort off the line, but that was all the home side could muster.
Wesley Snijder was exceptional and created a handful of chances for his strikers, but until the goal Eto’o and Milito failed to add the finish his service deserved.
On the other hand Drogba cut a frustrated figure at the other end, bullied by Lucio and co, the Ivorian couldn’t force his presence upon the game, and ultimately his frustration boiled over with his late dismissal.
Large parts of the game were taken up by the ongoing war of attrition between the two sets of players, with yellow cards and tellings off being handed out regularly. Clearly it was all part of the Inter plan to break up the play and slow the pace, and once again Jose got it spot on.
Chelsea’s cause also wasn’t helped by more dodgy referring, how Walter Samuel hauling Drogba to the ground from a corner wasn’t a spot kick is beyond me, and anyone else inside Stamford Bridge.
But perhaps the biggest worry of the night is not UEFA’s official recruitment policy, but the ease in which Inter disposed of one of the competition’s supposed favourites.
Questions will be asked of Ancelotti’s tactics, and his substitutions. All of who failed to have any positive impact.
Despite Mourinho often signalling his side to exploit Zhirkov down the left, the Russian’s removal signalled the start of Chelsea’s demise as the only natural pace at the back left the field.
Joe Cole again struggled, but the Chelsea Manager’s reputation is also on the rocks, with his side unable to open up a significant lead in the league despite rival slips up, Ancelotti knows that he must secure at least the Premier League to prevent the season being labelled a failure.
Tonight could also mark the end of several senior players European adventures with Chelsea. The likes of Ballack, Anelka, Alex and even Drogba failed to have the desired impression against a supposed weaker side, but of course everything seems worse in the immediate aftermath.
We have to also accept the Mourinho factor, but putting this aside, this game could be a turning point in Chelsea’s season, the big question now is, where will it go?