Thursday, 9 August 2012

Barca dreams give Chelsea identity crisis

Roberto di Matteo screamed
“We won it” at Roman
Abramovich as Chelsea
started their Champions
League celebrations, the
Blues manager can’t have
realised he was signalling
the end of an era at Stamford
Just over three months after
Chelsea’s rollercoaster
season reached a memorable
peak with the miracle in
Munich, much has already
changed at the west London
Talismanic striker Didier
Drogba, the club’s Champions
League final hero, is now
playing in China, while long-
serving stars like Jose
Bosingwa and Salomon
Kalou have been shown to
the exit.
In their place have arrived
exciting young talents Eden
Hazard, Oscar and Marko
Marin, who are expected to
transform Chelsea from the
battle-hardened group who
excelled at grinding
opponents into submission
into the Premier League’s
version of Barcelona.
It is a remarkable
transformation for a team
crowned European
champions and FA Cup
winners so recently.
But crucially it is Abramovich,
rather than di Matteo, who
has been the instigator on
this Blue revolution.
The Champions League had
often been described as
Abramovich’s holy grail, with
the Blues owner said to have
fallen in love with football
from the moment he
watched Manchester United
and Real Madrid contest an
epic encounter at Old
Trafford in 2003.
But the enduring memory
Abramovich retains from that
4-3 win for United is not
Real’s eventual progress to
win the tournament, but the
exhilaration he felt at
watching two teams playing
with such poise and
inspiration on such a grand
From that moment on,
Abramovich, who bought
Chelsea later that year, has
wanted not just success, but
success achieved with the
style he witnessed that night
in Manchester.
With that in mind, even the
sight of Chelsea finally
winning the Champions
League after a dramatic
penalty shoot-out against
Bayern Munich in May
couldn’t completely satisfy
the Russian, who has been
casting envious glances at
Barcelona’s breathtaking play
for several years.
While di Matteo might have
felt his team’s epic run, that
included a semi-final win
over Barcelona was the
ultimate achievement,
Abramovich begged to differ.
Chelsea’s bloody-minded
refusal to accept defeat in
tense ties with Napoli, Barca
and Bayern deserved
immense respect. But it is the
subtle skills of Barca’s Lionel
Messi, Andres Iniesta and
Xavi that Abramovich wants
to see when he watches his
own team.
And what Abramovich wants,
he gets. His love affair with
Barca could be seen in his
failed attempt to hire their
former boss Pep Guardiola
— he eventually gave di
Matteo a two-year contract
— and also his investment of
over £60 million on Hazard,
Oscar and Marin.
It is those three, together
with Juan Mata and
Fernando Torres, who will
dictate how Chelsea fare
now rather than traditional
trendsetters John Terry and
Frank Lampard.
It is easy to criticism
Abramovich for meddling
when he should leave team
matters to di Matteo, but
after Chelsea’s sixth place
finish last season — their
lowest in Roman era — it is
clear something needed to
Di Matteo has clearly bought
into the idea of a new-
Chelsea, talking
enthusiastically about tactics
on the club’s pre-season
“Moving between lines and
rotation can be an attacking
threat for us,” he said. “It
makes us more difficult to be
marked and more
unpredictable. However, we
also need width in the game
so it’s not just always coming
between the lines.
“It’s about giving width to
the team as well. There aren’t
going to be radical changes
but, inevitably, we are going
to change a bit the way we
play with the integration of
the new players.”
Di Matteo knows last
season’s success was a once-
in-a-lifetime joyride sparked
by a group of seasoned pros
aware their time was close
to up.
But Abramovich has set the
bar even higher this season
and the Italian has no choice
but to do everything in his
power to fulfill his desires,
only this time with a Catalan

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