Roberto di Matteo has made a positive start to his tenure as Chelsea manager but he will face his biggest test yet against Manchester City tomorrow – in fact, he will be facing his first real test.
The visit to the Etihad Stadium will pit the Blues against a City side who will be reeling from the loss to Swansea City last week and hungry to make amends.
The Stamford Bridge club will really make a statement as to how far they have come since Andre Villas-Boas was sacked, if they become the first side to avoid defeat at the home of Roberto Mancini’s side.
The Citizens have won all 14 games at the ground this season and the arrival of Chelsea is hardly going to lessen their motivation to continue that run.
There is no greater test in this Premier League season than going to the Etihad and Di Matteo will be doing well to avoid defeat.
There is renewed optimism at Chelsea after four wins in a row since Villas-Boas was dismissed by owner Roman Abramovich at the beginning of this month.
These wins have not all been vigorous examinations of Di Matteo’s credentials as a manager, with two of the four against sides from the Championship in the FA Cup.
The win over Stoke City was laboured and, although they controlled much of the game, was not reassuringly dominant against ten men – the relief around the ground was palpable once Didier Drogba rounded Asmir Begovic to score the winning goal.
Blues fans would not have been worrying too much after the game as three points was more important than a good performance at that moment in time.
It may be worrying the Chelsea coaching staff, however, at how the team struggled to break down a resolute and organised defence – something they are likely to encounter against City.
The highly enjoyable win over Napoli in the Champions League will be pointed to as an example of the side’s credentials and, on the face of it, that suggestion would seem valid.
However, it would be remiss not to consider the Serie A side’s weaknesses that allowed Chelsea to make an extraordinary comeback from the 3-1 deficit they returned with from the first leg in Naples.
Napoli’s defending was a little more than suspect and their finishing was very poor after creating a number, though not a great deal, of scoring chances.
It was their first knockout tie in the Champions League and the first in Europe for a long while, which showed in the naivety of their tactics.
They were disjointed for much of the game and did not attack in the irresistible, lightning quick and concerted way they have become famous and attracted so much praise for.
Once Chelsea shored up at the back after something of a leaky start to the game, it took a sublime Gokhan Inler strike to breach Petr Cech’s goal – in which was other wise a reasonably dominant display.
It would take a cold heart to try and deny the Londoners credit for a fantastic performance, but it is essential they are aware of the circumstances of the victory and must warn against overconfidence.
If the City game was due to be staged at Stamford Bridge, then the chances of a victory for Di Matteo would be greatly improved.
It appears the old ground has become more of a refuge than a fortress in the course of this season and the home crowd have a lot to do with the team overcoming the uncertainty that has become intertwined with each performance as a result of such an inconsistent season.
The former Chelsea midfielder has taken a role that has been unconquerable for a few, vastly more experienced, managers than the man who has so far only been in charge of MK Dons and West Brom.
Tomorrow evening will be the first time the recovering Blues will have their bandages peeled back to assess the damage and how far the healing process has come.
It would be difficult to find a sterner check-up than at the hands of Mancini and his side – Di Matteo must take care to avoid opening up old wounds.
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