at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
London – Roman Abramovich mixed with Chelsea fans on Friday night, chatting away ahead of an Alicia Keys gig at Under the Bridge, the intimate concert venue beneath Chelsea’s stadium.
He listened intently, mesmerised as the American R&B singer took to the piano and wowed around 150 privileged guests. By Saturday evening, after Chelsea had been beaten by West Bromwich, the music had stopped and a voice was telling Abramovich that another manager may be Fallin’.
They do things differently at Chelsea, chopping through seven managers in nine years before Roberto Di Matteo delivered the Champions League in May. At any other club the Italian would be inducted into a hall of fame in recognition of his achievements since replacing Andre Villas-Boas on March 4. Instead, the man who brought Chelsea their first European Cup is hanging on to his job ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Juventus in Turin.
The club started the season with the chance to win seven trophies but are already out of two. In Abramovich’s circle, it has been noted that Chelsea played 13 matches to qualify for the Uefa Super Cup final against Atletico Madrid in Monaco and seven FA Cup ties to compete with Manchester City for the Community Shield. They lost both and will be in danger of becoming the first Champions League winners in history to go out in the group stage if they are beaten in the new Juventus Stadium.
Abramovich left Di Matteo to it on Sunday, opting against a customary training-ground visit to exert a little pressure on the manager. But he is agitated again, unhappy with the team’s performance and questioning the desire of Di Matteo’s players after the manager made six changes at the Hawthorns. The idea of a ‘weakened team’ is inconceivable to a man who has pumped the best part of £1billion into his Chelsea project since 2003.
The pressure is on and Di Matteo is aware that his managerial abilities are being scrutinised just six months after he celebrated with the European Cup. Ever since Pep Guardiola let it be known that Chelsea is his favoured destination when he returns from a year-long sabbatical in New York, connections are being made all over the club.
For instance, Chelsea’s technical director Michael Emenalo makes no secret of the fact that he has a solid friendship with Guardiola’s former right-hand man Tito Vilanova, now coach at Barcelona. Then there is the change of style that Abramovich demanded in the summer, the shift of attacking emphasis and a request to play the ball out from the back. Having acquired ball-players such as Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard over the past two seasons, the evolution of the European champions should be well under way.
Abramovich began to dismantle the European Cup-winning team when Didier Drogba quit for Shanghai Shenhua and others, such as Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, are vulnerable after the club failed to reach agreement on new contracts. The training-ground talk is that this is all being planned in anticipation of Guardiola’s arrival, seducing the Catalan coach from afar by building a squad to suit his methods.That will come later, but Di Matteo’s immediate target is to survive a week that sees them visit Turin and then host new Barclays Premier League leaders Manchester City.
Di Matteo was thrashing ideas around with his coaching staff on Sunday, fearful of the threat Juve will pose inside their own stadium. They will target Ryan Bertrand after the left back was tormented by the through-balls of Fernan-dinho and shaken by the twisting runs of Willian during Chelsea’s streaky 3-2 victory over Shakhtar Donetsk a fortnight ago.
On that occasion the 23-year-old was without the protection of captain John Terry and his absence, this time through a knee injury, is another consideration for Di Matteo. So, too, is the shocking form of Fernando Torres. He was substituted after 63 minutes at the Hawthorns and is without a goal in the Premier League since Chelsea’s 4-1 victory over Norwich on October 6. Torres’s body language in recent weeks tells its own story, but Chelsea’s players will have to buy into Di Matteo’s tactics for a tough game in Turin. The alternative is for Abramovich to listen to that voice all over again. – Daily Mail