4th March 2012, and it's a case of same old Chelsea. They sacked Andre Villas Boas (AVB) after Chelsea went down to lose 1-0 at West Brom. This was the final nail in a coffin which was nailed down with 9 losses in a previous 12 games. So which big name would take his place? The return of Mourinho maybe? Hiddink for another 3 month stint? Why not try and tempt Pep Guardiola away from Barca with a lucrative deal? No, they went for Roberto Di Matteo. The man only previously had 135 games worth of experience, winning just about 50% of his games with lowly MK Dons (without promotion) and Premier League strugglers West Brom (although he got them up from the championship and they finished that season in 11th- not that he saw the whole season through) . An interesting choice, however after the appointment Chelsea beat Birmingham City in the FA Cup 2-0 and won his first league game in charge 1-0 at home to Stoke. So what has Di Matteo done right at the Bridge? How have Chelsea become a formidable force throughout the league? And can they do it one night in Munich?
Roberto Di Matteo is Chelsea's saviour. Can he guide them to 4th place, FA Cup and Champions League victory?
Firstly Di Matteo knew the team. AVB often came under large amounts of criticism for leaving out the trusted 'old-guard' and not knowing the core of the team. Lampard, Terry and Drogba often sat on the bench as AVB tried to mould HIS team. The much out of form Torres played up front alone and, after Sturridge's explosive start to the season fizzled out, struggled to put the ball into the net. AVB's last team shows this point. Against West Brom Terry was left out and Essien was replaced in the second half. Against Stoke Roberto Di Matteo (to fit in with modern times he shall now be known as RDM) put Terry, Lampard and Drogba into the first team. The Chelsea looked like the Chelsea of old. RDM has got Chelsea playing like the threat they were under Mourinho, Hiddink and Ancelotti. The need of a blend of experience with youth is required for understanding and success on the pitch. AVB should have known that the young Cahill and Luiz would be unreliable in Chelsea's back 4; confidence cannot have exhumed from the front either. The young (and prone to mistakes) Daniel Sturridge would not have played well of the out-of-form Torres.AVB did not know his best formation or side, and so failure- of Chelsea's standards- was likely.
So has Chelsea's form changed? Simply, yes! Di Matteo, in only his 3rd game, reversed the pains of AVB's legacy by beating Napoli 4-1 (AET) following a 3-1 defeat in Italy a couple of weeks before. This was memorable European night number 1. His first defeat came away at Manchester City. This would be followed by another 4 match unbeaten run. Then came memorable European night number 2. RDM said Chelsea needed two "perfect" games. They had one certainly. RDM got their tactics set up perfectly, let Barcelona attack, defend tightly, and get them on the counter. As added time of the first half was played. Ramires broke, squared it to Drogba, 1-0 Chelsea. It had worked. Taking that to the Nou Camp was going to be tough. But a second near-perfect game followed. Yes Chelsea were 1 man down (Terry red-card) and 2-1 down at half time (2-2) on aggregate, they just had to make sure they did not concede for 45 minutes. They went one better, scoring on 90 minutes to assure their place in Munich. To date RDM's record stands at P15, W10, D4 and L1.
So on Saturday 19th May 2012, Chelsea will play Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena. Can they do it? I seriously reckon they can. Munich will be weakened with the suspensions to their players following too many yellow cards, this gives them the best chance, as depth is probably not one of Munich's strengths. Chelsea also have the momentum, losing once in their last 15 games, Munich have lost 2 of their last 10 league games alone, sitting 8 points behind leaders Dortmund with only 9 more to play for. Furthermore, the hurt of 2008 in Moscow will want to be recitified. Even if JT can't play, teammates such as Lampard, Cech and Drogba who were all there that night will be eager to change the records. Beating the current champions is always a huge mental boost, Chelsea have that in their back pocket. Munich's advantages lie in they are virtually playing at home. There'll be less of a 'home' crowd at the stadium but Munich will obviously have the experience of playing in one of Europe's top grounds. Chelsea will be without Terry, Merieles, Ivanovic and Ramires (who has been instrumental in both Barcelona games),but the team should be strong enough to cope without them. Terry, just as I write this, will be allowed to collect his medal and lift the trophy should they win. Chelsea will do their best to win it for RDM and captain fantastic.
All the best to the Blues for the mid-may match, but first they must do their best to qualify in fourth, so if they lose they can get back into the Champions League, and they also have an FA Cup final versus Liverpool to contend with first. Can they juggle all this? The next few weeks will tell.