This afternoon’s visit to Brighton may well be the friendliest of all friendlies, given that in opposing dugouts sit Roberto Di Matteo and Gus Poyet.
The pair played together in the Chelsea midfield of the late 1990s and early 2000s, instantly hitting it off upon Poyet’s arrival at Stamford Bridge in 1997, a year after Di Matteo had signed, and have kept in touch ever since.
The Uruguayan was a visitor to Cobham towards the end of last season when he dropped in on his former colleague, and plays host this afternoon when we visit the south coast.
‘Gus is a good friend of mine, and we have been since the first day we played together at this club,’ Di Matteo confirmed. ‘I’ve been following his career and he’s been following mine. We talk a lot and it’s always interesting when we do.
‘He has a very good idea of how he wants his teams to play and we share a lot of opinions, to play football the right way.’
Di Matteo admits he has no special bottle of wine in mind to share with his counterpart this afternoon, but it’s no problem as it is unlikely to be long until their next reunion.
‘We go out sometimes so we are always speaking over dinner and we can have a glass of wine any time,’ he smiled.
One cause of concern for the manager however is the continued absence of five players from his squad on Olympic duty. He concedes the group still feels incomplete without Ryan Bertrand, Daniel Sturridge, Juan Mata, Oriol Romeu and new signing Oscar, but has news on the Spanish pair who were eliminated this week.
‘They will be back training with us on Tuesday and straight into the mix. Then we will work out a plan for the two boys, especially Juan Mata who hasn’t had any holidays,’ Di Matteo said. ‘But, the squad won’t feel complete as we still have three guys at the Olympics, including Oscar, so I don’t think until everybody is here and we can work with all the guys that it will feel complete.’
This afternoon’s game represents the final opportunity for Di Matteo to take a look at the players he does have at his disposal, and you can see the game live and exclusive on Chelsea TV from 2.30pm.