Di Matteo - A Master Plan or a Stroke of Luck?

AVB confiding in his successor

Andre Villas Boas was brought to Chelsea with Abramovich’s hopes high and pockets emptied. His money rested on such a young man’s shoulders. He maybe saw him as the next model Mourinho, a young, suave Portuguese manager who seemed to have the charisma and the tactical incision that he had always look to replace, but he hadn’t found another ‘Special One.’

He started well, making good signings and the fans and Abramovich, himself, seemed on side. But as in football, nothing lasts forever. Form dipped, poor results came a plenty and Chelsea looked more and more likely to be playing with the likes of Liverpool in the Europa League next season.

On March 4th 2012, Andre Villas Boas was sacked as Chelsea manager. He left Abramovich’s men in a trailing position to the Italian force of Napoli in the Champions League, a poor league rank and a less than adequate run of form in the FA Cup in which Chelsea had seen themselves squeeze through round by round. It seemed that Roman was not going to get what he craves year on year, trophies.

Known for his distance shooting and seeking long passes, Di Matteo himself was a playing  hero at Chelsea from the years 1997 – 2001. But since turning to management he has never looked back.  In July 2008, Di Matteo steered MK Dons to a play off place in League One before   leaving to take charge of West Bromwich Albion in 2010. Here he enjoyed the extremes of management, maybe preparing himself for the mental toughness he would need to further his managerial career.

Since his appointment as Chelsea Interim Manager in March of this year, Roberto Di Matteo has revolutionized the current Chelsea team who were a shadow of their present form. They are in the Champions League Final after beating the critically acclaimed ‘Best Team in the World’, Barcelona. They are also in the FA Cup final after thrashing their London rivals, Tottenham, 5-1 at Wembley and they are steadily building form in the league, even though it seems inevitable that they will fall adrift of the 4th position they desire. Is this all part of the Di Matteo master plan? The tactics, the newly found confidence or just a raised morale in the camp as a club legend has taken charge. Or maybe it is just the players proving that they are worth their wages and, heaven forbid, might want to play for the shirt!

The Joy of Beating 'The Best'

Surely not even the strictest of Chelsea despisers can argue that this great change in circumstances is ‘lucky’. But there is a case for it. Let’s take the road to the FA Cup Final as an example. I’ll set the scene, it’s 1-0 after an explosive drive from Didier Drogba, but Tottenham are still in it. Then the ball falls for Mata from a corner and he strikes it towards goal. A goal is given by the referee, but subsequent pictures have shown that the ball never crossed the line. Now, for me, this goal wins them the game as it takes the fight out of Spurs and makes the Chelsea players believe that fate is driving them down the smooth road to the final. This ‘luck’ has seen them reach their destination, but I’m not sure if this was anything to do with the management.

The Goal That Never Was

On the other hand, the second leg of the Champions League Semi Final showed the magnitude of the task that was in front of Matteo. The sheer height of the task was unassailable, even with a 1-0 lead.

The task: to climb Mount Nou Camp and park a bus.

Matteo’s tactics were perfect. Chelsea played Barcelona as a unit, not a solitary player. They had learnt from teams who had been to the Nou Camp and been heavily beaten that you cannot go there and play your own style of football, it is impossible, they will, as Matteo said himself, ‘rip you to pieces’. But they didn’t go to play their own game, they went to counter Barcelona’s. They played a stiff back four, even after John Terry’s humiliating sending off for violent conduct which left the task in hand that one little bit harder. But they pulled through with good tactics and stern defending, shutting down the key areas of the pitch, and making the best and most creative players in the world look, at best, average.

But, there was luck involved. They were lucky Lionel Messi was having an off-day in which he didn’t look at his penetrating best. They were lucky someone had added an extra layer of paint to the Camp Nou woodwork of which Barcelona struck twice. Even Glenn Hoddle saw the workings of fate in action in the studio. He and Jamie Redknapp both agreed that Chelsea’s name is ‘already on the cup’, a ludicrous, but seemingly possible statement in which we now find ourselves indulged into.

Last night, April 24th 2012, Di Matteo stretched Chelsea’s undefeated streak against Barca to 8 consecutive games and progressed this 6th placed Premier League team into the Final of the biggest club competition in the world. As a Liverpool fan I draw similarities between this run and the road to Istanbul in 2005, where Liverpool were an average squad beating the best teams in Europe at the time, for instance the likes of Juventus, with Thuram, Ibrahimovic and Gigi Buffon. Liverpool also scored a ‘ghost goal’ in the semi final of that tournament where we went on to progress to the final. For me this was down to the impeccable management of Rafael Benitez in his first season of Champions League football, and maybe Roberto Di Matteo can draw comfort from the fact that people have been in his situation before. Just take a look what Liverpool came back to Anfield with on the 24th May 2005.

Roberto, you have done a hell of a job. Luck or not, he deserves the permanent contract that Roman Abramovich holds the pen to, so illustriously. All this, and there is still trophies to be won.

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Tags: Chelsea, Di, Matteo

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