Roberto Di Matteo's gamble may open door to Pep Guardiola at Chelsea

Pep Guardiola

The telephone line will be warming up between wherever Roman Abramovich is in the world and the apartment on Central Park West in New York where Pep Guardiola is spending his sabbatical from football.

The urgency of the Chelsea owner's attempts to woo the Spaniard is likely to be redoubled now that Chelsea's grip on the European Cup and Roberto Di Matteo's hold on the manager's job hang by the same rapidly fraying thread.

The final margin flattered Chelsea but at least Di Matteo had shown himself willing to take a gamble. After his success last season in restoring a sense of well-being to the dressing room, his decision to drop Fernando Torres for this crucial tie showed that he was not putting his own reputation first.

Selecting Torres to face Juventus would have been, in one sense, an each-way winner. A goal or two for the Spaniard would have justified the show of continued faith in his long-obscured talent. Another failure? Well, it was the owner, after all, who showed such keenness to transfer £50m into Liverpool's bank account almost two years ago. By leaving him out, Di Matteo ran the risk of a defeat whose impact would affect his own position most of all.

One day we may learn whether Di Matteo asked for Abramovich's permission to relegate the most expensive player in Chelsea's history to the substitutes' bench. But not even the unavailability of anything resembling a conventional central striker last night – with Didier Drogba long gone, Romelu Lukaku on loan at West Brom and Daniel Sturridge ruled out by a hamstring injury – could justify the Spaniard's inclusion in a match from which some sort of return was essential.

Di Matteo's solution turned out to be a novel one, without being innovative. By deploying Eden Hazard at the point of last night's attack he was following an example set by Marc Wilmots, the Belgian manager, at Wembley in June, in the second of England's warm-up matches for the Euro 2012 finals.

On that occasion, before his £32m transfer from Lille to Stamford Bridge had been made public, Hazard played in front of Marouane Fellaini and Moussa Dembélé, occasionally swapping positions with them but definitely cast as the principal attacker. Belgium lost 1-0, but not before the 21-year-old had made an impressive debut on English soil, reminding us that he had been a regular goalscorer with his French club.

He has not been as prolific in London, but it was to him that the chance fell with which Chelsea should have taken the lead in the 10th minute. Oscar, moving in that beautiful frictionless way of his, started a run just inside his own half and drifted past Leonardo Bonucci and Claudio Marchisio before prodding a perfect pass between Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini to meet the Belgian's run down the inside-right channel. Hazard might have opted to shoot first time but instead took a touch to control the ball before seeing his effort turned away by the leg of Gianluigi Buffon.

The capacity crowd in Juventus's compact and atmospheric new stadium were soon roaring as Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah, Juventus's adventurous wing-backs, strove to make the most of an ample supply of possession before Fabio Quagliarella, who once caught the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson, gave them the lead. At the other end Hazard, having failed to capitalise on his scoring chance, turned provider. He ran at Barzagli before slipping the ball through to Oscar, whose surprisingly heavy first touch neutralised the opening. Then a run by Hazard down the right ended with a pass that put Juan Mata free in front of Buffon, only for a weak touch to make the goalkeeper a present of the ball.

Despite these openings Juventus's 3-5-2 looked considerably more efficient than Chelsea's improvised variation on their usual 4-2-3-1, with César Azpilicueta deployed on the right side of the attacking midfield trio. When Di Matteo sent a reserve attacker out to warm up early in the second half it was not Torres but Victor Moses, who replaced Azpilicueta on the hour.

Two minutes later Asamoah's cross gave Arturo Vidal the chance to hit a shot that Ramires deflected through the legs of the helpless Cech. Now Torres was doing his touchline exercises, destined to be given just 20 minutes to prove his manager wrong, but his only meaningful touch in that time came with a clever inside pass to Oscar, who promptly fell over.

But never mind the £50m misfit. When Chelsea needed to hold on to the ball and turn the tide in the second half, it was £80m worth of midfield artistry in the shape of Hazard, Mata and Oscar that virtually disappeared from the action – and Hazard whose failure to challenge Martín Cáceres led directly to the final goal for Sebastian Giovinco. This sudden and collective loss of dynamism among the glittering trio has not been an unfamiliar phenomenon in recent weeks, and it looks like being the first problem the next man will have to solve.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Richard Williams at Juventus Stadium, for The Guardian on Wednesday 21st November 2012 00.34 Europe/London

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image: © Tsutomu Takasu

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