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Di Matteo making his mark early on

Tuesday 13th March 2012
Many looking in from the outside will  suggest that Chelsea's 1-0 victory over Stoke was a poor performance, how could a top team take over an hour to break down a Stoke side, reduced to 10 men after just 20 minutes?

Although it was a frustrating afternoon, it was by no means a poor performance. Stoke, whose original attitude towards the game was far from expansive, went further into their shell after Ricardo Fuller's remarkable display of stupidity. They played the rest of the game with a solid bank of five in front of a rigid back four; they were extremely well organised and tough to break down as they sought a 0-0 draw, which they may well have attained had interim boss Roberto Di Matteo not been so proactive.

Di Matteo's brave and intelligent substitutions probably won the game for Chelsea. The Italian withdrew Meireles for Mata within 40 minutes, as he felt he no longer needed both him and Mikel operating in a deeper midfield role. This proved successful as the substitute changed the game with a sharp performance and ultimately supplied the moment of class required to break through Stoke's resolute defence.

Similarly, Di Matteo confirmed after the game that Luiz's Half Time introduction in place of Branislav Ivanovic was tactical, he gave Luiz a license to go forward, (as if he needed one) and this gave Chelsea more impetus in the second half. Gary Cahill also deserves credit for his best performance in a Chelsea shirt, what he had to deal with he did with authority, whilst displaying his skills as a quality ball playing defender in occasional forays forward. So credit where it is due - Chelsea Managers don't often get much - to Di Matteo who has started well, but much tougher challenges await.

Before Chelsea embark upon an extremely difficult series of league fixtures, the small matter of overcoming a two goal disadvantage against an impressive Napoli side presents itself on Wednesday night. This represents a difficult challenge for any manager, as maintaining a balance between attack and defence is absolutely crucial. Chelsea can not afford to go all out attack, as Napoli will punish them on the counter, which is their speciality.

At the same time Chelsea must score at least two goals, so balance is the key. It was very evident in Naples that Napoli have defensive frailties and if Chelsea play well they are more than capable of exploiting them. If I was in Di Matteo's position I would impress the importance of patience upon the players. I would start with Mikel and Essien sitting, shadowing and hopefully negating Lavezzi and Cavani, as we can barely afford to concede.

In front of those two, Frank Lampard; Ramires and Juan Mata should cause Napoli plenty of problems in behind the considerable threat of Didier Drogba, this selection would be harsh on Sturridge but he has been short of form recently and can offer an injection of pace later on in the game. The only problem with this formation is that Mata would have to start from the left, which is not ideal but as the game evolves and opens up, the opportunity to move him more centrally and behind the striker will arise. Of course Napoli are favourites but Chelsea have every chance of progression.

Wednesday's game pales into insignificance in comparison to the race for fourth place, qualification for next year's Champions League is a must for Chelsea. There is a lot of rebuilding to do this summer and if we are to attract top quality  replacements for some of the old guard then Champions League football is vital. Many clubs can now compete with us financially and we will see our top targets go to the Manchester or the other London clubs if all that we can offer is the Europa League.

Improvements have been made over the last couple of weeks, but if we are to displace Arsenal or Tottenham in the top four, especially considering our testing fixture list, substantially more progress is necessary.
Ben Carey-Evans

Total articles: 8

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