Di Matteo takes Chelsea back to basics with Napoli test looming large

Using a tried and tested system and personnel shone through as the Blues laboured to a 1-0 win that demonstrated that familiar methods will pay dividends as they deal with change
By Josh Clarke at Stamford Bridge

New Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo matter-of-factly summed it up best in his post match conference when he said that his side’s laboured 1-0 win over Stoke was neither ‘easy or pretty’.

The adage that ugly 1-0 wins are rewarded with titles is entirely redundant here yet the victory is a result from which Chelsea can draw, if not confidence, then at least relief.

Delve deep enough beyond the uninspiring nature of the tepid victory against their 10-man, unadventurous counterparts and there is plenty to suggest that Di Matteo not only played it right on the day but is in a position from which to move forward at the very least. Chelsea served up a swift reminder to themselves that they should stick with what they know best - a philosophy wholly ignored by Andre Villas-Boas in his brief stint at the helm of the club.


Rattled the bar during the latter stages of the first half in a robust display that saw him claim the right flank for his own with some powerful bursts. Subbed off after the break, perhaps suffering ill-effects from Fuller’s ugly stamp.

An impressive game that shows he is bedding into the Chelsea back four very well. Refused to be bullied by the problematic Kenwyne Jones and used his initiative to carry the ball forward and join in play.

His return to action provided Chelsea with a stability at the back that filtered through the rest of the side. Unlucky to see his header bounce back off the bar in the first half.

A typical Cole performance that saw him rarely, if ever, beaten one-on-one and full of forward impetus.

It would be nearly impossible to adequately describe the gulf in potency between a Napoli attacking trident of Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi and a solitary Kenwyne Jones but the omens brought about by the most comfortable Chelsea defensive display I’ve seen this season can only be good.

The back four on show at Stamford Bridge is clearly the ablest Di Matteo has at his disposal and their solidarity at the back was a core of stability, the influence of which filtered through the team. Similarly, as the average age of the Chelsea side rocketed to 28.5 years old, a maturity shone through. Such maturity in Villas-Boas’ team selections and the consequent inability to grind out results was entirely absent.

Though not individually at their best, Chelsea old boys Frank Lampard and Salomon Kalou benefitted from the familiarity afforded by tried and tested personnel, if not method. Didier Drogba, also far from spectacular, emphatically proved that when presented with an opportunity, he can rise to the occasion.

Chelsea systems of old have flourished with the constant width provided by the wide men of a 4-3-3 setup. Yesterday, effectiveness down the flanks was provided in equal parts by the marauding qualities of Ashley Cole, Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz and by Kalou’s desire to start centrally and peel out wide.

Such movement created space for the advances of Lampard and Ramires, the duo charged with the attacking responsibilities of the initial midfield quartet. When game-changer Juan Mata was introduced, the holes formulated by the Stoke back four being dragged out of shape were a place in which the Spaniard thrived. It was in such conditions that Mata provided the intricate reverse pass that gifted Drogba the winner.

Whether such tactics will be a mainstay seems unlikely, especially given Di Matteo’s assertions in both his programme notes and post-match press conference that squad rotation and match-by-match solutions will be utilised during his tenure.

Nevertheless, the performance on the day served as a reminder that perhaps the only way to get Chelsea to function in the short-term is to adhere to well-established principles.

The fortunate crux of Napoli’s visit to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday is that little is expected of a Chelsea side who have already written this season off as one lost to transition and failed experimentation.

To suggest the Blues are capable of overturning Napoli may be a step too far yet the kind of confidence brought about by a ground-out 1-0 victory cannot be understated. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chelsea give Napoli a run for their money in midweek.

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