Sunday afternoon will see us line up against Manchester United without either John Terry or Frank Lampard in our side for the first time in 12 years.
Last time it happened, Roberto Di Matteo was in the Chelsea line-up that drew 3-3 at Old Trafford. It was the Italian’s last league game for Chelsea, and Claudio Ranieri’s first. Much has changed since, but the presence of one of our captain or vice-captain has remained a constant until now, and Di Matteo admits it will be a test of his side’s character this afternoon.
‘We’ve had big games before [but it is] certainly a test for us,’ said the Italian. ‘They are two influential players for us and we are going to miss them on Sunday, so I think all the others will step up and we have to show we are a team with character, with personality and we are showing the personality to play in these big games.
‘Games against Man United were always very competitive and quite balanced, enjoyable games you looked forward to. It was playing against the best players in the league at the time, and you always looked forward to those games.’
Little has changed in that respect since Di Matteo’s playing days, and the manager knows he still has plenty of quality to call upon at Stamford Bridge, including new signings like Oscar and Eden Hazard.
‘It’s a big bonus for us that they’ve come into the team quite smoothly and settled into the club,’ he said. ‘It’s still early and they have to improve the language and the new culture and league they’re playing in, but like Juan Mata last season, it’s a big bonus for us.’
Another of our established figures, Ashley Cole, has been linked with a move when his contract expires at the end of the season, but Di Matteo would love to keep hold of the left-back, who he still rates as among the best in the world.
‘Yes I do absolutely, no doubt,’ he confirmed. ‘There are on-going negotiations with the club and it’s something he directly discusses with the club. I would like him to stay here. It’s something they have to sort out between the two parties, and my wish is that he stays here.
‘[Ashley] is a fit boy, he can play every game and still has many years in front of him. I would like him to stay here and be here with us.
‘For me he is one of the best left-backs in the world and a great asset for the team and club. He is very good defensively, offensively he provides attacking options and his positional awareness is very good. He has experience, he is quick, has got stamina, he has everything.’