At this moment in time, Roberto Di Matteo is the man most sympathized with in world football and understandably so. Six months after winning the FA Cup and Champions League, the most coveted trophy in Roman Abramovich’s eyes, he finds himself kicked to the curb. He was dealt a really bad hand but having been aware of his owner’s ruthless track record, perhaps he could have played his cards a little better in a bid to evade the same fate that befell his many predecessors.
Many point to Chelsea’s crucial Champions League game with Juventus in Turin as the reason for his dismissal. Defeat in Italy meant that the Blues would have to rely on the Bianconeri losing their final group game for them to have any chance of progressing to the knockout stages. The disappointing result could see Chelsea become the first defending champions to be eliminated in the group stages.
Di Matteo’s tactics against Juventus were admittedly poor and he gracefully accepted the blame for the defeat in his post-match conference as well. He decided to use three centre-backs but the confusion within the back line was palpable and they were repeatedly exposed by a top quality side that functioned like a well-oiled machine.
Furthermore, his decision to exclude Fernando Torres from the starting line-up was a bit puzzling. He effectively removed the focal point of his side’s attack in a 5-4-1 formation which demanded the services of a target man. A striker terribly short of confidence is still better than no striker at all.
At the end of the day, that game against the Italian champions will always be remembered as the one that cost Di Matteo his job. However, had the former Chelsea boss been more shrewd with the way he managed his squad, he may have been able to avert the crisis altogether.
Less than a month ago, Chelsea were unbeaten in the league and topped the table as well until Manchester United came to visit. The hosts were controversially beaten 2-3 and faced the same opposition in the Capital One Cup a couple of days later. Di Matteo wound up using 8 of the 11 players who featured in the previous game over the course of 120 minutes of hard fought cup football.
In an earlier article it was opined that despite winning the cup game 5-4 after extra-time, the subsequent draw to Swansea City which cost them their top spot in the league, suggested that they would have to pay for that victory by falling further behind in the league and struggling to qualify from their group in Europe which would invariably put Di Matteo’s job under threat. In light of recent events, that particular point made over the team selection for the league cup game is all the more relevant.
Prior to the cup game, Di Matteo would have looked at the fixture list ahead and he would have known that it was possibly his only opportunity to rest his first team for the next month. When he needed to be level-headed and make a calculated decision, his determination to avoid another defeat to United in such quick succession unfortunately got the better of him. After their cup victory, Chelsea then went on a run that saw them win just one of their next five games and the rest as they say is history.
One does get the feeling that Roman Abramovich never really fancied Di Matteo as his club’s permanent manager and his reluctance in offering the Italian the job over the summer in spite of him already delivering the FA Cup and Champions League speaks volumes of the lack of confidence he had in the then interim manager. Di Matteo had an axe over his head right from the moment he signed on the dotted line and even a mild set-back this season was always going to give his trigger-happy owner an excuse to dispose of him.
What has transpired is incredibly unfair and harsh on Di Matteo but he must have known what he was getting into. Perhaps if Chelsea were still top of the table, Di Matteo would have escaped the wrath of Abramovich but at this juncture, the Russian probably feels that things are starting to get away from the former Chelsea midfielder and decided to bring in the more experienced head of Rafa Benitez who, in his mind, may have the pedigree to win the Premier League.
Nevertheless, this is not the case of an incompetent manager getting what he deserves or the case of an average manager being replaced by a superior one. This is the case of a bright and young manager falling victim to the impossible demands of an uncompromising and impatient club owner.
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