DI MATTEO: LOOKING FORWARD

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.’

PAT NEVIN: UP FOR REVIEW

What do the supporters of at least four other sports he can mention benefit from which football fans don’t? Columnist and former Chelsea star Pat Nevin follows on from the weekend events by calling for change…

Oddly enough, it actually feels like the season has really only started now. Maybe the international break and the week off for the Super Cup has made the Premier League feel a bit weird, but now it is full steam ahead. With the domestic games flowing and the Champions League kicking in tomorrow night, this is where it really starts.

I hope I am honest and fair-minded when I write these columns, I do try to be. So when I say we have had very fortunate fixture draws at the start of the last two domestic seasons in a row and that we did ride our luck once or twice on the road to lifting the Champions League trophy last season, you will know that I am not being embittered when I say the fixturing of the Champions League group could have been better this time round for us. Actually I am not sure fixturing is a real word, but you know what I mean.

Getting Juventus in the first game is anything but an easy task even if it is down at the Bridge tomorrow night. Still it is a group game so even the odd early slip, if it happened, wouldn’t be fatal. But that is followed by two away games in a row which we also cannot afford to be over-relaxed about. Even if we have got an easier second part to the group, the psychological effect of the table not looking the way you want it only adds to the pressure.

The point is we really do want to get something out of this game tomorrow otherwise we will be chasing right from the start. The last thing you want is to be thinking that we need to go to Donetsk or Turin and win to stay in the competition. Certainly there will be no complacency as the last two games have failed to produce a win after what was a fine start to the season.

QPR it should be said were pretty lucky not to lose, in that there were at least two clear-cut, stonewall, nailed on, ‘what on earth are you thinking about referee’, penalty claims. ‘Them is the breaks’ as they say, but it is infuriating when TV replays are so absolutely conclusive and also that they show the officials were in great positions to see the incidents.

It is funny that the rugby tackle on JT was missed but his misdemeanour in the Champions League semi-final at the Nou Camp was (rightly) spotted by an eagle-eyed official. Monday night’s howlers by the officials in the Everton v Newcastle game just underlined the problems.

I am one of that breed who does want the introduction of much more technology to help referees and not just goal-line technology which is no more than a rather pathetic first step in my book. I work in TV regularly and know that we can get the pictures to the relevant people almost instantaneously. The thing to do is do it like they do in tennis. The team has the opportunity of a couple of reviews in each half of the game, so you only use them in extreme situations, you mustcall it immediately and as such the system is not as open to abuse.

The game goes on anyway until the ball goes out of play and then the reviewed decision is checked. (It will be ready by that time for sure, even if it is only 5 to 10 seconds later).

One of the arguments is ‘what if the opposition score before the ball goes out again?’ Well tough luck on them, the original correct decision will stand if the review shows it to be right and their goal will not count. All I want is for some league in the world to be able to trial it to see how it goes. If there are problems that can’t be ironed out then fair enough, we can go back to the old system. You know the one, where every single person in the stadium and at home, sometimes as many as billions of viewers all know what the correct decision should be but crucially one guy doesn’t have a clue…the guy who makes the decision!

Just look at the excitement it has added to tennis, the crowd love the tension of the reviews. As the scoreboard shows the ball falling towards the line the gasps go up and the cheers or groans follow. Pure showbiz.

Tennis

Some have argued that fans would get angry and riot if there was a change of decision, nonsense. Referees do that already when they consult their assistants and anyway I don’t think football fans are so thick they can’t get the concept. In fact it is offensive to suggest they can’t understand it when the fans of tennis, rugby, American football and cricket all seem to manage perfectly well thank you very much.

I appear to have lost myself in a little rant there over Chelsea not getting a couple of penalties at Loftus Road. But it is more than JT or Eden being fouled, it is the wider injustice that perpetrates throughout the game. After all, over time we would suffer from it as much as we would benefit as a club. At least it would be fairer and as I said right at the top I do like to be fair-minded and honest. I think the game should be as well.

Now if that was all a bit complicated then get your calculators and slide rules out for the competition details this time round, because there are three quizzes to deal with this week.

Two weeks ago I asked how many goals Chelsea players would score in the upcoming internationals. Well we are all done now and the correct answer was 6. Frank Lampard scored 3, Ivanovic 1, Ramires 1 and Oscar 1. The winner chosen at random from only 25 correct answers out of many hundreds of guesses came from David Wilkinson living in Bethlehem, New Zealand. He will get a Champions League review DVD, signed by Gary Cahill.

On to last week and I wanted to know how many Serbian-born players were in the current Chelsea squad. Well most people thought of Branislav Ivanovic right away, but quite a few others thought that Marko Marin was also Serbian born. As I understand it, Marko is from a Serbian family but in fact was born in Bosanska Gradiska, which is actually in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina. So he can’t really be called Serbian-born. Branislav is as such the only Serbian-born player.

The winner chosen from the many correct answers turned out to be Sergey Shadrin from Russia who will also get a signed Champions League review DVD arriving in his post very soon.

So that only leaves this week’s quiz question, could you tell me other than Englishmen, which player has made the most first team appearances for Chelsea in the club’s history? The lucky winner will get a similar Gary Cahill-signed DVD and as ever answers should be sent to me at [email protected]

Good luck with that, good luck to the lads and I am going to lie down now for little while, but I will be up again in time to be on Chelsea TV for the Juventus game, I can’t wait.

CHELSEA TV EXCLUSIVE: MOSES ON DERBY DEBUT

Victor Moses’s delight at making his Chelsea debut was tempered by the lack of three points taken against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road.

The 21-year-old made his Blues bow as a replacement for Ryan Bertrand in the 58th minute, and while our performance as an attacking unit improved following his introduction, we were unable to make the breakthrough which would have maintained our perfect start to the league season.

‘I played around 25 minutes, we did very well when I came on and I just tried to help the team as best as I could,’ Moses told Chelsea TV. ‘Unfortunately we only ended up with a point, but it’s still a good result away from home, it was a battled point.

‘Everyone expected us to win, but that’s football. It’s a derby game as well, they were playing at home, they gave it 100 per cent and wanted to win the game, but we came out with our own tactics and tried to win the game, now we’ll just look forward to the next match.

‘We had a lot of chances, we didn’t take them but hopefully in the next game we’ll be able to capitalise on that.’

With the team set up in Roberto Di Matteo’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, Moses started out playing wide on the left-hand side, but with a tactical switch soon after seeing us revert back to a shape which has served us well in past years, the former Wigan Athletic man moved out to the right.

It was a change which almost brought instant reward, as Moses forced a smart stop from the impressive Julio Cesar, while shortly after it was his cross which created a wonderful opportunity for Eden Hazard, who was unable to convert.

‘When I came on we were playing 4-2-3-1, but the manager pulled me back and said we were switching to 4-3-3,’ Moses explained. ‘I moved out to the right and Ramires went back into the middle with Hazard on the left.

‘The first chance I had, I just wanted to take the defender on. There was a bit of a deflection but the goalkeeper made a great save.

‘After that, I set up another chance for Hazard, but he wasn’t able to connect with it properly. We should be happy with the point we took.’

DI MATTEO: CHANCES WILL COME

Saturday at Loftus Road was the first time Chelsea failed to score in a match this season but Roberto Di Matteo has reiterated his faith in his strike force as he looks back on the game.

Fernando Torres, the starting centre-forward, endured a frustrating afternoon, one which was brought to an end when he was replaced by Daniel Sturridge with 10 minutes remaining.

The Spanish striker opted to head straight to the changing room but while Di Matteo could understand the disappointment, the Italian also explained that with a heavy schedule in the coming weeks, the full depth of his squad will need to be utilised.

‘Players are generally not happy to come off, he [Torres] showed a bit of frustration but it’s not a problem for us, we move on and focus on the next game,’ Di Matteo said.

‘Against QPR it was difficult to create a lot of chances, we had a lot of corners and a couple of very good opportunities, but sometimes if you have five or six chances you have to take one and score that goal, especially away from home because usually at home you will create more.

‘I thought we played very well, especially in the first half when we were very strong. We created some good chances. Hazard and Torres both had chances but QPR’s new goalkeeper [Julio Cesar] was worth the money they paid.

‘Torres worked very well and he had a chance to score in the first half and a half-decent chance in the second half as well, he played his part in the game,’ noted Di Matteo.

‘We can’t put too much pressure on one player, we are a team and everybody has responsibility and we are looking for other players to score goals as well, Hazard had two great chances and on another day he might have scored.

‘We’ve only played four league games up to now, and including QPR we have a run of seven games in 21 days, so there will be a chance for everybody.’

As an attacking unit, we improved following the introduction of Sturridge and debutant Victor Moses, who offered pace and width as legs tired in the closing stages.

Sturridge is yet to start in the league thus far this season, but Di Matteo, who expects to welcome Juan Mata back into the squad for Wednesday’s visit of Juventus in the Champions League, offered words of encouragement to the 23-year-old.

‘I thought the substitutions that we made had a big impact on the game, they were very lively when they came on, so we have options.

‘The biggest help for Sturridge will be to play more minutes and show his qualities, but as long as he keeps on training well he will get chances to play. I’ve played him wide, and he came on through the middle, but he will get more chances.

‘Mata will be available for selection for Wednesday, it’s probably too early for [Marko] Marin. We’ve got some knocks and bruises so we will assess the players.’

WHO'S YOUR NUMBER ONE?

Chelsea magazine will be turning 100 soon and to commemorate the milestone, we want fans to help select the 100 greatest Blues players of all time.

The landmark edition of the club’s official monthly publication will hit the stands at the start of November and we are looking for as many supporters as possible to get involved with the vote.

You might look at what current stars such as John Terry, Frank Lampard and Petr Cech have contributed to our trophy-laden recent years and think that one of those players should come out on top. Perhaps Didier Drogba’s penchant for big goals in big games will see you give the Ivorian the nod or were Gianfranco Zola’s silky skills the highlight of your Blues-watching days?

Many of you might still favour other players from yesteryear, such as Dennis Wise, Kerry Dixon, Charlie Cooke, Peter Bonetti or Jimmy Greaves. Or will Peter Osgood always remain the King of Stamford Bridge to you?

Of course, the choice is completely yours, so get thinking, then get voting. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled across all the club’s media platforms, with regular stories appearing on the official website, social media, Chelsea TV and the matchday programme. You can also expect some of our current players to have their say via Twitter using #CFC100.

Voting commences on Monday 17 September and closes on Monday 1 October and could not be simpler. Just follow this link, fill out the simple form and enter the name of your favourite Chelsea player of all time. Alternatively you can send your vote to us by emailing [email protected] or post your vote to Chelsea magazine, 3rd Floor Stamford Bridge, Fulham Road, London, SW6 1HS.