Di Matteo’s reign starts with victory; is Chelsea’s win at Birmingham the first small step towards recovery?
There was a buzz and a smile about Chelsea last night in their FA Cup win at Birmingham, as they started life without Andre Villas-Boas in charge.
With constant paper talk of player revolts and an unhappy dressing room, the mood around Chelsea has been glum for the past couple of months, but with the premature exit of Villas-Boas from the dugout, things instantly seemed fresh and exciting with Roberto Di Matteo in charge for their FA Cup replay against Birmingham.
It wasn’t the greatest performance you will have ever seen; the pitch at St Andrews certainly didn’t help, but the win came with smiles – something that had been missing from the players under Villas-Boas.
It’s hard to put this all down to Di Matteo; he was assistant to Villas-Boas and isn’t a fresh face in that sense, but a slightly changed line up and players not sulking because they have been benched, certainly helped raise the spirits.
Chelsea fans were heard loud and clear when they sang “there’s only one Di Matteo” but this certainly isn’t his audition for the job on a permanent basis. His claim that the win was for Villas-Boas shows he certainly isn’t ready to take a job on as big as this, but this is a great chance for Di Matteo to put his name in the shop window for other jobs after dismissal from West Brom last season.
Whilst it was vital for the Blues to return to winning ways, the real challenge for AVB’s former number two begins in the next seven days. Their biggest objective is to secure the fourth place spot, and three points is essential against tough opposition in the form of Stoke. If the players weren’t 100% behind Villas-Boas, they will have to be 110% together with the management now, if they are to overhaul Tottenham or Arsenal and secure Champions League football again.
There shouldn’t be too much pressure placed on Di Matteo for next week’s match against Napoli. Having just sacked their manager and been in apparent turmoil for the past two months, it would be unrealistic to expect the Italian and his management team to overturn a two-goal deficit against a good counter-attacking Napoli side.
Long-term, the most important thing for Chelsea isn’t finishing fourth or beating Napoli. To a certain extent, it isn’t even getting the right manager in for next season. What is essential is for Roman Abramovich to allow the next manager he appoints, something that has been impossibly hard to find at Stamford Bridge in recent years.