On the eve of our first Champions League fixture since being crowned European champions last May, Roberto Di Matteo stressed that this season’s competition will be even more difficult to win given the calibre of potential opponents.
Exactly four months to the day since we overcame Bayern Munich, the Blues begin the defence of our crown, and a bid to become the first team to retain the trophy, against Italian champions Juventus at Stamford Bridge.
Over the course of 10 campaigns, we have never failed to qualify from the group stages of the tournament, but having been taken right to the final game last season, where a 3-0 win against Valencia eventually saw us through, Di Matteo is taking it one step at a time.
‘The objective is always to get past the group, that’s our first target,’ he explained. ‘Once we are through, it’s two-legged games.
‘We have three champions in our group, from Italy, Ukraine and Denmark, so it will be difficult. It’s not just them; other teams who have joined the Champions League this season are very strong. It’s very competitive and probably even stronger than last year.
‘When you are at a big club like Chelsea, there is always pressure to win trophies and bring more success. Everybody was pleased we finally brought the trophy home to Stamford Bridge, but we have to look forward now, that’s in the past.’
Our opponents, whose last appearance in the competition came back in 2009/10, when they were eliminated at the group stage, come into the game in a positive frame of mind following a 3-1 win at Genoa on Sunday.
Currently in the midst of an unbeaten league run which stretches back 42 matches, and with players such as Andrea Pirlo and Marko Vucinic more than capable of producing a moment of magic that can turn a game, Di Matteo is aware of the threat his fellow countrymen will pose.
However, on their last visit to Stamford Bridge back in 2009, a solitary Didier Drobga strike gave us a 1-0 win the first leg of our Second Round clash, before a 2-2 draw over in Italy saw us progress, and the Chelsea manager is anticipating a similar approach from the visitors tomorrow night.
‘They are a very strong team, everybody recognises that and they are on a long unbeaten run,’ he explained. ‘They have a lot of quality, experienced and younger players and this is one of the most difficult teams we could have been drawn against.
‘Their side will be similar to the one that came here a few years ago, determined to sit back, but they will try to impose their football, they like to get on the ball but we will try to limit their spaces on the pitch.’
Last season’s successful Champions League campaign was one littered with drama and controversy, with unforgettable matches in the latter stages against the likes of Napoli and Barcelona preceding the final itself whereby we overcame all the odds to lift the trophy.
Suggestions that our triumph was very fortuitous doesn’t sit well with the Blues boss, but he admitted that there is a very good reason as to why no team has won the competition in its current form two years in a row.
‘You need to deserve everything you get,’ said Di Matteo. ‘We worked very hard and prepared well for the different opponents we faced. It can’t just be luck, of course you need a portion, but that’s a minor part of it.
‘It’s difficult because of the fierce competition. Every season there are new strong teams who qualify, such as Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, which makes it difficult, but we will try because it’s not impossible.’