Chelsea's transformation from a
team seemingly heading nowhere to one that is just 90 minutes
away from the Champions League final means interim coach Roberto
Di Matteo has emerged as the clear favourite to be handed the
The 42-year-old's astute tactics, mixed with plenty of luck
and some resolute defending, secured a 1-0 win over reigning
European champions Barcelona at Stamford Bridge in the first leg
of their semi-final on Wednesday.
Despite Barca enjoying 72 percent possession and 19 attempts
on goal, Chelsea's victory, coupled with their 5-1 thrashing of
London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup semi-final on
Sunday, have put Di Matteo's men within sight of two trophies.
Six weeks ago, under former coach Andre Villas-Boas, the
only thing that looked like arriving at Stamford Bridge in May
was a new broom to sweep away what the sacked Portuguese boss
had regarded as dead wood.
Di Matteo took over on an interim basis on March 4 and
immediately set about restoring confidence and self-belief,
especially to some of the senior players who had publicly
criticised Villas-Boas following a poor run of results.
The likes of Frank Lampard, 33, Didier Drogba, 34, captain
John Terry, 31, Ashley Cole, 31, and out-of-form striker
Fernando Torres all looked spent, with the former especially
seemingly peripheral to Villas-Boas's long-term plans.
However, former Chelsea midfielder Di Matteo offered a
He installed Lampard back in midfield, enthused Torres with
a new-found belief which has seen him start scoring again, and
restored a team spirit that had all but dissipated under
After Wednesday's win, which came courtesy of a Drogba goal
just before half-time, Di Matteo said: "In the past, a lot of
people have had the opinion that our boys were over the line and
too old to play at this level.
"It was not just Didier, but a lot of players in our squad,
that they said couldn't play two games in such a short period of
time. They gave their answer on the pitch."
Since he took over, Chelsea have won 10, drawn two and lost
just once in 13 matches but Di Matteo refuses to be drawn on his
prospects of taking the job permanently.
Many experts predict that Barcelona will recover and reach
the final in Munich next month, but even if they do, Chelsea's
billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich would be taking a
huge gamble in replacing Di Matteo at the end of the season.
While it has been widely reported that Abramovich wants
Barcelona's manager Pep Guardiola to coach his side or some
other "big name", the Russian may have the answer to his dreams
of winning the Champions League already in place.
That may happen this season but under Di Matteo, Chelsea are
showing glimpses of the heights they touched when Jose Mourinho
was manager and which brought them successive Premier League
titles in 2005 and 2006.
In many ways, Di Matteo does seem a perfect fit for Chelsea.
Clearly respected by his players, he made 175 appearances
and scored 26 goals for the club before his career ended
prematurely at 31 when he suffered a triple leg fracture in a
UEFA Cup tie against St Gallen of Switzerland in 2000.
He went on to manage at Milton Keynes Dons and West Bromwich
Albion before Villas-Boas brought him back to Chelsea at the
start of his brief managerial reign last summer.
As far as Chelsea are concerned, that might have been the
best piece of business Villas-Boas ever did for the club and
even if Barcelona recover from Wednesday's defeat and win the
tie, there is no doubt Di Matteo has restored the club's pride.
London bookmakers William Hill have installed him as the 7/4
favourite for the job, ahead of Rafael Benitez (9/4), Mourinho
(11/4) and Guardiola (8/1).
On Tuesday, Guardiola dismissed speculation linking him to
the Chelsea job as "a fantasy". Right now, that is exactly what
Di Matteo has brought back to the Bridge.
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