Chelsea’s scrappy win over Stoke City was just what they needed after the hullabaloo that surrounded Stamford Bridge following Andre Villas-Boas’ sacking.
Didier Drogba scored the solitary goal in the game and eased the tension in the Blues crowd, which was created by what had become something of a siege following the dismissal of Ricardo Fuller.
It would have been sweet relief for Roberto Di Matteo after a tumultuous week of recriminations and accusations in the aftermath of Roman Abramovich’s decision to dismiss the young Portuguese manager after just eight months.
This 1-0 victory followed on from the 2-0 FA Cup replay win at Birmingham City on Tuesday last week, which was achieved in similarly unruffled circumstances.
Di Matteo was handed the job until the end of the season with the remit to steady the ship and try to get Chelsea back into the top four without any more slip–ups or calamities befalling them.
The nature of the two wins should provide some kind of foundation going into the second leg with Napoli on Wednesday, although it will be a much tougher ask to see off the Serie A side in as comprehensive a manner.
The former Chelsea midfielder is in a fortunate position regarding his future and what would be acceptable from here until the end of the season.
He will be expected to appease the squad after the disquiet and unhappiness that became apparent under Villas-Boas.
His task is not an easy one, but he is helped by only having to operate on a short-term basis and does not have the agenda of long-term overhaul his predecessor was working under.
Rumours of players leaving come the end of the season have been present throughout this campaign and they may still happen, but Di Matteo may be able to get a few more high class performances out of an ageing squad.
Whether this is true for all of them depends on Abramovich’s plans, but there can be no argument over the suggestion that the squad needs to be injected with some youth sometime in the not too distant future.
The hallmark of Di Matteo’s two games in charge have been a preoccupation with defensive solidity, and the apparent feeling that concentrating on keeping clean sheets should be the first port of call when suffering a crisis of sorts.
Although he did show tactical proactivity when Fuller saw red, by removing one of his holding midfield players, Raul Meireles, to be replaced with a more attacking option in Juan Mata.
It paid dividends in the end as Mata played the crucial pass for Drogba to score the match-winning goal – that said, Meireles did not appear too happy with the decision.
It seems shrewd on the part of the Italian to set his team up so as to not be vulnerable at the back and rely on the individual quality of his best players to make a decisive difference at the other end.
Taking this approach for the game with Napoli, where a 2-0 win would see them through, could be an effective and sensible way to go about things.
At least to begin with anyway, and changes can be made if the tie looks to be getting away from them.
Di Matteo has avoided directly answering questions about his chances of getting the job full-time and hardly any have tipped him for the role, but the system he is deploying at the moment could prove to be a convincing factor come the summer.
If his tactical approach continues to bear similarly stable success, he could well pull off something special in the short time alotted him.
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