Chelsea have spent their summer in full-scale reinvention, a process undertaken at such lavish expense that there was an irony that they should endure the last few hours of the transfer window being scorched by a player they had once coveted.
Radamel Falcao claimed the European Super Cup for Atlético Madrid at the Londoners’ expense here with a first-half hat-trick that, even in a contest Chelsea might instinctively have dismissed as meaningless, will have shaken the Champions League winners to the core.
This was an ugly reality check, albeit one delivered with ruthless beauty, after all the giddy spending of the last few months and Chelsea’s own sprightly start to the Premier League campaign.
Instead it served to expose the defensive frailties that might undermine this team against opponents of real pedigree.
Atlético, Europa League winners, are magical when they click with this one of their irrepressible displays until their concentration wavered, victory long since assured. The contest had actually been decided by the interval.
Roman Abramovich had come to Monte Carlo hoping to watch his team hoist silverware again and set the tone for the months ahead.
He must have departed with Falcao playing on his mind.
Chelsea’s centre-halves will be haunted by the memory of confronting the Colombian.
The treble registered before the break was his second in five days, following three in the 4-0 demolition of Athletic Bilbao on Monday, to swell his tally in European competitions to 37 in 40 appearances.
This is a player scouted extensively by Premier League clubs in the past, Chelsea included, when he would have been available at what now feels a knockdown price, but he is out of most clubs’ financial reach these days.
Falcao had scored the last goal of André Villas-Boas’ glittering year at Porto to claim the Europa League in Dublin, and registered two more for Atlético in the final against Athletic Bilbao to win the trophy in Bucharest back in May.
He has long since been prolific, with Chelsea just the latest opponents to be scarred.
It was Chelsea’s own sloppiness that invited catastrophe. Atlético had swarmed all over them from the start, their tempo blistering where Chelsea had sought to ease themselves into the contest.
They simply could not cope, with this a defensive mess more reminiscent of the chaotic defeat suffered in this arena by Claudio Ranieri’s side eight years ago.
“We were well below par and fell to pieces,” said Gary Cahill. “If we’re honest with ourselves, everyone was below par. It was embarrassing at times and we let ourselves down. It was unacceptable.”
They were outclassed for lengthy periods, unable to suppress Atlético’s attacking verve. The Spaniards’ captain, Gabi, probed from central midfield while Arda Turan and Adrian López glided menacingly.
The speed at which Atlético counter-attacked was ferocious and their ability to drag Chelsea defenders out of position gave them space on which they capitalised ruthlessly.
This was a slaughter at times. The weary prod against his own post by David Luiz in stoppage time at the end was the third occasion Atlético had struck the woodwork. By then Chelsea’s back-line looked broken.
Falcao, inevitably, had contributed the other two near misses, thumping against crossbar and post either side of his opening two goals. Not that this was an occasion to be critical.
The sheer brilliance of the chances he did take drew the focus. There was a burst on to Gabi’s slide-rule pass and an astute clip over the advancing Petr Cech seven minutes in, the shot placed cleverly to by-pass the retreating David Luiz as the Brazilian sought out the goal-line.
His second was arguably more impressive, a stunned collection and deliciously curled left-footed finish from the edge of the box after coaxing rare space from Ashley Cole. The ball arced gloriously past the full-back, over Luiz and Cech’s out-stretched hand.
Even Chelsea’s players might have considered a spontaneous round of applause.
His reward was complete in stoppage time at the end of the period, Atlético breaking upfield from defending a corner with Arda Turan liberating Falcao behind Ramires.
The shot scuttled through Cech’s legs. Everything thereafter was a stroll. “Ours was a slow start and, if you give Falcao space, he’s dangerous,” said Roberto Di Matteo. “We should have blocked him before that. But we had a slow start and were never really in the game.”
The goals exchanged after the break felt incidental, messy scrambles as defensive discipline evaporated. Miranda’s finish was delicate, Cahill’s thumped in frustration at an evening far from enjoyed.
Fernando Torres, who had hoped this might be his night against the club who had nurtured him, was reduced to one scuffed shot wide and a rousing chorus of his name from Atlético’s vociferous fans, who will always appreciate one of their own. Yet, in Falcao, they have still a player impossible to forget.