Firstly, one of the downfalls of Villas Boas was his rotation of the squad and seemingly inability to avoid irritation from some of the club’s long-standings senior figures. The likes of Frank Lampard hit back at the Portuguese trainer’s selection methods, and may well have contributed to the ex-Porto man’s sacking.
Di Matteo bravely decided to shuffle his pack for the game against Benfica, making six changes from the team that drew 0-0 with Tottenham, including dropping Lampard to the bench, along with Didier Drogba and Michael Essien. The Italian’s decision to field out-of-favour players such as Kalou and Paulo Ferreira raised a few eyebrows, but proved to be a masterclass. Some many times coaches are slated for getting their team selection incorrect; Di Matteo must be praised for getting his right.
Not only did he get the team selection correct, fielding a team suited to win the fixture, Lampard was graceful in being dropped and will still back Di Matteo; something that was not afforded to Villas Boas. As a former Chelsea player the ex-midfielder seemingly has more respect from the playing squad; a key attribute for any successful coach.
However, it has not been solely in Europe that the side have improved since the managerial change. Despite only drawing against a plucky Spurs team in their last Premier League fixture, the side have been better in the league and a five-point gap between fourth and fifth is in no way insurmountable. The Blues are also through to the FA Cup semi-finals, with glory two games at Wembley away.
Looking back at Di Matteo’s managerial career, he has excelled at MK Dons and West Brom, and it was something of a surprise when he agreed to become Villas Boas’ assistant rather than pursue another head coach position. The Italian obviously has the acumen and attitude to be number one at a club, and his tactical knowledge seems good.
Without getting too carried away, Chelsea are in a transitional period and there is a lot of work that needs to be completed before the west London team can get back to being title challengers. However, with a popular and astute Di Matteo at the helm, the club’s chances are looking up.
By Gareth McKnight