If he was watching it on television, Chelsea's great escape against Napoli on Wednesday would
probably have been greeted with a rueful shake of his head by
recently sacked boss Andre Villas-Boas.
Chelsea have been a side transformed since the Portuguese
was sacked on March 4.
They have won all three matches since under caretaker
manager Roberto Di Matteo, culminating in Wednesday's 4-1
victory that sealed a 5-4 aggregate victory.
Suddenly, from the look of a club in turmoil, Chelsea are in
the quarter-finals of the Champions League, the last eight of
the FA Cup and are in the mood to fight for a top-four spot in
the Premier League, even if the title dream is long gone.
Di Matteo, the former Chelsea midfielder, was mobbed by the
players at the end as fans celebrated wildly inside an
electrified Stamford Bridge.
The furrowed brows and tension that had accompanied the last
few months of Villas-Boas' ill-fated and short reign were
replaced by an explosion of joy and relief.
Chelsea's three vastly experienced generals, skipper John
Terry at the heart of the defence, Didier Drogba marauding up
front and Frank Lampard's masterful in midfield, all produced
performances that were all too rare under Villas-Boas.
The clock may be ticking loudly on their careers but they
proved against Napoli that "player power" need not be a bad
thing. While Villas-Boas appeared set on revolution, the
seasoned trio showed that they could be vital in Chelsea's
evolution, whoever the next coach is.
Di Matteo was largely calm and composed throughout the
match, apart from falling over when Drogba headed in the first
Chelsea goal in the 28th minute to restore hope after Napoli had
bossed the opening exchanges.
His policy of relying on entrusting the salvation of
Chelsea's season to the old guard is a simple one but, with the
players seemingly happy again, it may prove effective.
Asked if Chelsea could have beaten Napoli with Villas-Boas
still at the helm, Lampard showed a neat side-step but admitted
there was now a desire within the squad to end the season on a
high after some dark months.
"You see it time and time again that when a manager changes
the fortunes of the team change," Lampard, who was regularly
dropped by Villas-Boas, told reporters.
"I don't know why or whether it's right or wrong but we have
not been consistent in the league and that's why the owners
changed the manager. The players have to give everything.
"A night like tonight showed the desire of the players and
with that we can go a long way. Performances like this bring us
Billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, who could hardly wipe
the smile off his face as he walked across the pitch after the
game, is likely to go for a big name manager in the summer, but
Di Matteo has done his chances of being involved no harm at all.
"It's for the club to decide on the new manager," Lampard
said. "He's done very well and had three wins out of three so
fair play to him. I think Robbie is a Chelsea man and he's shown
that with his heart on his sleeve.
"He told us to concentrate on the basics and play with
pride. It's a great reflection on him that we've had three wins.
He deserves it.
Di Matteo said he hoped Chelsea's Champions League heroics
will now spark a late-season surge in the league where they are
ion fifth place, three points behind Arsenal and four behind
Tottenham Hotspur who they face at home this month.
"I have had some great nights [in football] but it will
probably go down in the club's history, coming back from a
two-goal deficit from the first leg," the Italian said.
"You saw from the players how they performed. They showed
the passion and that they care about the club and the fans. It
will give us a big boost for the rest of the season."
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