Football

La Liga giants battle to replace axed Roberto Di Matteo after Juventus hand out a footballing lesson to Chelsea

Early Wednesday morning, Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo was sacked. Tuesday night’s 3-0 defeat by Juventus in Turin seems to have tipped the scales against the Italian. The heavy loss means Chelsea’s Champions League aspirations have been taken out of their hands and in a fortnight’s time, fate will decide whether they become the first ever Champions League holders to be eliminated in the group stage.

In winning last season’s Europe’s premier club trophy, the Blues were widely acknowledged as the luckiest European Champions, certainly of the modern format. They somehow survived relentless bombardments by both Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the semi-final and final respectively but last night, Di Matteo’s luck ran out.

From the offset it was clear that this marriage was destined to end in an early divorce. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich stalled on a deal despite the Italian delivering the Champions League. The reward of a delayed contract offer and a two-year one at that was a kick in the face. It is no secret that the Russian billionaire wants it all. He craves a flamboyant football team, in addition to a successful one. That was never going to happen under Di Matteo.

The acquisitions of Oscar and Eden Hazard, to roam with the already impressive Juan Mata, have been magnificent but only in spurts this season. Furthermore, Di Matteo sticks to his rigid 4-5-1 formation and does not appear to have any tactical nous. The triple threat of Hazard, Oscar and Mata have saved Chelsea on many an occasion this season rather than accentuate the club as a driving force.

In Turin, Di Matteo was the architect behind Chelsea’s defeat. By deciding to drop Fernando Torres, he effectively employed Spain’s 4-6-0 formation of Euro 2012 and it backfired spectacularly. The Grand Old Lady of Italian football put on a strong and sharp display knowing that they themselves needed a win to progress into the knock-out rounds. They duly did so, dominating the match for lengthy spells and although Chelsea had a couple of decent attempts on the counter-attack, they were no match for the Bianconeri, who have only lost two matches in 18 months.

There will be those who bemoan the loss of the injured John Terry but then again Chelsea did spend over £35m (over $50m) signing Gary Cahill and David Luiz – their two centre backs last night. Like most of their team mates, they were not at the races and even the usually dependable Ashley Cole was given the run around. In truth had Fabio Quagliarella, in particular, laced his shooting boots, the result would have been well beyond doubt before the third goal was scored – by Sebastian Giovinco in the first minute of injury-time.

Admirably, at the post-match press conference, Di Matteo took the defeat squarely on the chin and blamed himself. This possibly contributed to his demise, although sources indicate that Chelsea’s hierarchy have been working behind the scenes for a few weeks now in touting possible replacements to take the Stamford Bridge helm. The club released a statement this morning confirming that they needed to move in a different direction.

Despite all the negativity, the Italian did something which even the ‘Special One’ did not achieve and that was delivering a historic Champions League trophy – the one trophy which Abramovich has craved above all since he purchased the Londoners in 2003. Add a seventh FA Cup to this and Di Matteo can be proud of his spell in charge of the Blues after he took over the reins following Andre Villas Boas’ dismissal in March.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. Pep Guardiola is said to be the owner’s preferred choice. Guardiola left Barcelona at the end of last season, following a trophy laden (14 trophies) four years to take a self-imposed 12 month sabbatical and it is believed that Abramovich failed in an attempt to sign him last summer.

Not forgetting the ‘Special One’ himself, Jose Mourinho could be enticed back to London following his public fallout at Real Madrid, where both he and compatriot Ronaldo have kicked up a fuss that the club is not as supportive of them compared to the Spanish contingent at the capital. Mourinho, the Chelsea fans’ favourite, is unlikely to leave Real whilst they remain in the Champions League but an unfavourable result tonight against Manchester City may change all that.

In the short-term, Rafa Benitez has been mentioned. A sensible choice, akin to Guus Hiddink’s caretaker appointment in 2009, he would bring a tactical stability to the club. Furthermore, and importantly in Abaramovich’s eyes, he would renew his incredibly successful partnership with the stuttering Fernando Torres.

There are options are out there but history suggests that the reality is a simple one. Based on the owner’s trigger happy approach, whoever is appointed is already a dead man walking.

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