DI MATTEO: CLOSING THE GAP

With our first Premier League game of the new season on the horizon, Roberto Di Matteo has spoken about the importance of showing a greater level of consistency if we are to keep pace with last season’s top two.

The 2011/12 campaign will go down as one of the most memorable in our history, and understandably so following our Champions League and FA Cup triumphs.

However, a sixth-place league finish, 25 points behind eventual champions Manchester City, is not something Blues supporters have been accustomed to in recent times, and the manager is fully aware of the need to reduce that gap.

‘We want to try and bridge the gap with the two Manchester clubs, and be more consistent in the league than last season,’ said the Italian.

‘Our target in the league is to do better, be more consistent and fight with the teams at the top.’

One player in particular whose performances are likely to have a major impact on how successful a season we have is Fernando Torres.

The Spaniard has impressed fleetingly since his switch from Liverpool, none more so than when he netted a hat-trick in our 6-1 win over Queens Park Rangers last season, that coming days after he’d scored a crucial goal to secure our place in the Champions League final, but after performing well at the Euros, and with Didier Drogba now departed, the new season could bring the best out of Torres.

‘During last season he showed a lot of quality. He was unfortunate with the sending off [against Swansea] as he was getting a good run, but towards the end of the season he was a vital player for us,’ explained Di Matteo.

‘He scored some immense goals for us and, playing on the right, he was an important player. He worked hard, which he always does, and provided a lot of assists, so he’s a good player to have in our team.

‘We have a lot of confidence in Fernando but also in [Daniel] Sturridge. He scored a lot of goals for us last season so we have both options. Fernando is looking good at the moment and we are hopeful he will have a good season.’

For Torres to flourish, much will depend on the service provided by our supporting midfielders and wide players, an area of the pitch which has been bolstered immensely over the course of the summer.

However, with Kevin De Bruyne on loan at Werder Bremen, Marko Marin out injured and Oscar still relatively new to the club having only arrived at the end of last week, much of the creative onus, particularly in the opening few weeks of the season, will fall on the shoulders of Eden Hazard.

Di Matteo, though, has warned supporters that it may take time before we see the very best of the Belgian.

‘We have a lot of high hopes for him, from what we’ve seen and what he’s done in the past. He’s an exciting player with a lot of good qualities,’ said the manager.

‘But he’s a young player, like Oscar, and we won’t put too much pressure on him so he can settle in as soon as possible.

‘He has great technical ability, pace to get away from players and I think he will show his ability over time.’

With Sam Hutchinson following both De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku out on loan earlier this week, there is little doubt that the club are keen for those youngsters on the fringes of the first team to develop their talent through playing regularly elsewhere.

Another such player, who could yet depart according to the manager, is Josh McEachran.

‘He’s a great talent, I’ve had conversations with Josh,’ Di Matteo acknowledged. ‘His career has somehow stalled a little bit. He came on to the scene very young, but I think it’s part of a player’s development that you have ups and downs and you learn all the time.

‘With Josh now, I think the best solution will be to play, maybe go on loan and play, and get into the rhythm of playing games every week and get back to the level he was at when he first broke into the team here.’

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