Roberto Di Matteo was appointed full-time Chelsea manager on a two-year contract in June, a month after he won the illusive Champions League. Even the most incredulous would not have thought it possible that Di Matteo would not be appointed and yet the month intermission between the final win and appointment suggest Roman Abramovich was rigorous in his search for a new manager to overhaul the team. Pep Guardiola’s unavailability, and a lack of any other viable manager, was ultimately the reason why Di Matteo was hired on a full-time basis.
It is of course no secret that the task he is faced with differs from his agenda as caretaker. Last season’s Champions League and FA Cup victories were the final accomplishments for the older, esteemed Chelsea players and the summer has seen Didier Drogba, Jose Bosingwa, Salomon Kalou leave on free transfers. The memo to reignite an ageing Chelsea team has now become a task to build a young team and Abramovich has furnished his young manager accordingly with an armoury of young players.
A glance at Chelsea’s pre-season games this summer indicates Di Matteo’s endeavours to appropriate Chelsea’s strategy to its new attacking weapons. The 4-4-1-1 that obstinately won the Champions League has been replaced with a 4-2-3-1. The fluidity of the formation allows it to become a 4-1-4-1, a 4-3-3 or a 4-5-1 but the tactical prolificacy has yet to materialise in Chelsea’s play where they have still appeared somewhat slow and burdened and Hazard has yet to fully justify the hype, or the fee.
As the team struggle to effectuate Di Matteo’s new system, results in pre-season have been disappointing with only one win and three losses to MLS All-Stars, AC Milan and most worryingly to Brighton. It has not helped that due to international competitions this summer, players have arrived at varying times and with the main aim of pre-season for the squad to reach peak fitness, results are not prioritised but what is of concern to Chelsea is the laboured performances of the games.
Di Matteo predicted that Chelsea will have the added facet of ‘unpredictability’ in their play this season consequent of the new acquisitions but also maintained that the team would not necessarily be playing attacking football and was reluctant to say that the team’s style would change substantially. But the pre-season matches have not concurred with his statements. Marko Marin has looked more impressive than Hazard, but Chelsea still seem short of movement and creativity. And the manner in which goals have been conceded expose the openness and fragility of the Chelsea defence particularly on the counter-attack.
When Roberto Di Matteo took West Brom to the Premier League, they were praised for their attacking, passing style and Roman Abramovich certainly craves a similar brand. But if Di Matteo cannot assimilate such a style, and moreover not produce results, how long will it be until Abramovich plays his hand again in the conveyor belt of Chelsea managers.
A two-year contract awarded to Di Matteo is hardly comforting for the ex-player and he will surely be aware of Pep Guardiola in the waiting. Only results, trophies and an attacking style will keep Di Matteo in this job. And should the results and performances of pre-season continue once the Premier League begins, it should not be a surprise if Di Matteo becomes the Premier League’s first managerial casualty.
image: © Jason Bagley