Di Matteo speaks ahead of the Champions League clash against Juventus
Chelsea take on Italian Champions Juventus at Stamford Bridge in the opening tie of group E in the Champions League, a competition the Blues had won for the very first time in their history by defeating Bayern Munich in dramatic fashion last season. Ahead of the game, the Chelsea manager spoke about the competition.
“We have three champions in our group, from Italy, Ukraine and Denmark, so it will be difficult. The Champions League this season is very competitive and probably even stronger than last year. The objective is always to get past the group, that’s our first target. Once we are through, it’s two-legged games. When you are at a big club like Chelsea, there is always pressure to win trophies and bring more success. Everybody was pleased we finally brought the trophy home to Stamford Bridge, but we have to look forward now, that’s in the past.”
After bringing unprecedented glory to the club in Europe, Roberto di Matteo is perhaps the first manager under Roman Abramovich whose future doesn’t depend on how the team does in the Champions League. Rather, he’s more likely to be judged by what he does domestically, in the Premier League and how well and how quickly the new Chelsea gels together as a team and performs at an optimum level. It’s no secret that the bosses at Chelsea aren’t comfortable with the Manchester duopoly in the Premier League and want the club to win the league, sooner rather than later after finishing sixth last season.
Moreover, with the departure of club legend Didier Drogba amongst other seniors and with quite a few new faces within the ranks, Chelsea aren’t European top dogs in this edition of UEFA Champions League. They are trying to inculcate a new style of play; it will take time for the players to understand one another and the system. Furthermore, they appear weak in two positions; namely that of the centre forward and central midfield. So, despite being defending champions, nobody expects them to defend their crown – but, nobody expected them to defy the odds last season as well.
Villas-Boas wants to achieve something special in Europa League again
It wasn’t a long time ago that Andre Villas-Boas captured the Europa League title in his first season at Porto. And now, he wants to repeat the feat with new club Tottenham Hotspur, who face Lazio in their group J tie.
“We want to do something special in this competition. This competition is very important. It’s a tough competition. You have to play 15 games before you reach the final, so it’s hard and strenuous and the best teams out of the Champions League are playing. It gives access to the European Super Cup and, for me, I always thought it was a prestigious competition and it should be promoted like that because after the Cup Winners’ Cup disappeared, it is not only about the Champions League. If we can win a trophy, that represents a lot for Tottenham Hotspur’s history as well and would be something really special.“
That Villas-Boas is talented is unquestionable, but in order to repeat his feat at Tottenham, he’ll have to learn from his man-management mistakes at Chelsea; perhaps marry the free-spirited football that Spurs played under Harry Redknapp and the high-pressing, high-line tactics that are part of his blueprint. So far Spurs haven’t particularly entertained as people had come to expect from them. The win over Reading was their first victory in the league this season and they have looked slow, lacklustre in their approach. Harry had molded them into a dangerous outfit that counter-attacked at breakneck pace, took no prisoners, and often put reputations to test.
In the absence of Kaboul through injury, Vertoghen and Caulker are the best suited for Andre’s high line of defence, but he has preferred Gallas in games so far. He didn’t help matters in the dressing room either by proclaiming Brad Friedel to be his first choice goalkeeper, immediately after signing France number one Hugo Lloris. If Villas-Boas can restore the lost aura at Spurs and avoid repeating the mistakes, Tottenham would surely be one of the favorites to lift the cup. Against Lazio, wouldn’t be a bad time for them to start making all the right moves.
Whether his European Super Cup mention was a thinly-veiled jibe directed towards former club Chelsea, who were recently destroyed by Atletico, is a question only the Portuguese can answer.