After a lot of hard-work, Roberto di Matteo fashioned a side far from the one we saw during the days of all those who were managers before him (it’s quite a long list, you can find it here).
Where Andre Villas-Boas tried to drive away Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, Di Matteo sidelined them with subtle man management. Where Luiz Felipe Scolari tried to make them Brazil overnight, Di Matteo used weaker opposition to try his transitional tactics and ease the team into a newer way of playing.
But Chelsea’s success over the last decade has been built on defensive solidarity. That is the way they have won trophies — including the Champions League.
And when things got tight yesterday, Di Matteo adopted the tried-and-tested Chelsea method — a gross disrespect to the side he himself fashioned — a side which played for three points and a side with the early season swagger of European champions.
Sadly for him, the tactics failed. The so-called stylish Chelsea fell flat against mighty Juventus. Old methods didn’t seem to work for the Blues when it mattered most. The fact that he’s aided by a struggling striker and an immature decision maker in Daniel Sturridge doesn’t help.
In all reality, Di Matteo’s desperation was plain when we saw a 4-6-0 formation (or was it a 5-5-0?). It got even worse when he said post-match:”I selected the team I’m convinced was the right team to get a win or a draw.”
A draw? A draw would just keep hopes alive, while a win would have guaranteed qualification.
When you are champions of Europe, you play to win. You don’t play a defensive formation against a team which expected it. That’s not forward thinking, that’s not how champions take things in their hands and that is surely not the Di Matteo way.
As long-time Chelsea fan @pdinsight put it: “That’s the way we’ve played when our backs are on the wall. Defend-defend-defend and then launch a counter-attack with ox-like Didier Drogba at the end of it.”
But fans have yearned for those ‘negative football’ taunts to stop and when it finally looked like Chelsea had earned some respect with their free-flowing football, Di Matteo caved in and shifted focus to saving his job rather than sticking with his football principles.
He played five defenders which killed off the creativity and five midfielders who were confused as to when they needed to suddenly morph into a striker. Ramires and Obi Mikel couldn’t have done it, and the task was left to the new-look fork attack comprising of Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard — all able finishers but lacking the mentality of a striker. ‘False number nines’ in the true sense.
Juventus had already won after seeing that line-up.
Di Matteo has done everything right since taking over — fixed a divided dressing room, cleared old furniture to make way for new and most of all — win the Champions League.
Chelsea’s manager is a fantastic prospect and certainly on the path to a great coaching career, but he needs a patient owner and this is a club where patience is no virtue. He needs assurance which won’t force him to shift base to the old times. New methods take time to perfect and failure is part of the learning process.
Di Matteo may take solace in the fact that Chelsea always under-perform in November. Chelsea’s record in November 2008: W3-D2-L3. In November 2010, it was W3-D1-L3 and in November 2011, it was W2-D1-L3. 2009 was an exception when they won four and drew a game.
But Roman Abramovich will just wave them away as numbers. He can only count trophies.
Do follow live updates of this Sunday’s Manchester City vs Chelsea match on Firstpost.