Di Matteo needs the perfect game for Chelsea
GROUP E CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Chelsea v Shakhtar Donetsk: Stamford Bridge, 7.45 Setanta Sport s 1, Sky Sports 4:The scenario feels eerily familiar. Chelsea are a team under threat and confront daunting opponents in Shakhtar Donetsk tonight, with Roberto Di Matteo suggesting they need to muster “the perfect game” to reassert some authority on the section.
The Italian has used such rhetoric before, most notably ahead of last season’s semi-final against Barcelona, but his was a recognition that the holders must now improve to progress.
Their continued participation in the Champions League teeters on the brink. On the assumption Juventus’s slick approach play finally yields a first win against Nordsjaelland in Turin, Chelsea must defeat the Ukrainians at Stamford Bridge to ensure their destiny remains in their own hands.
Shedding points tonight followed by defeat to Juve later this month could jettison them ignominiously and prematurely from the competition. This is an occasion to draw strength from the experiences en route to Munich and the manager conceded as much.
“We’ll need to be at our best and must have the perfect game,” said Di Matteo. “It’s more than just about our status [as holders]. Every individual player going on the pitch has to perform at the best of their ability. There are comparisons certainly to last season, when we had must-win games. This is another. Fortunately, we have players with the experience who have been through that before and performed in big games like this. That will help them deal with the pressure.”
Shakhtar, a team who have never previously prevailed competitively in England, look certain to present an awkward test tonight. The visitors have swept all before them domestically, their winning streak in the Ukrainian league now stretching to 23 games, but Mircea Lucescu’s charges have been just as imposing in European competition.
Their only blot on a perfect record was the draw in Turin and they certainly succeeded in scarring the champions at the Donbass Arena a fortnight ago.
On that occasion they scored early and then picked off the visitors on the break, wounding them down either flank with Alex Teixeira, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Willian a menacing trio operating behind Luiz Adriano.
Ryan Bertrand will fill in for the hamstrung Ashley Cole at left-back but will expect to be severely tested by Teixeira’s trickery. The visitors will sense vulnerability in the home back-line, even with John Terry restored after his domestic ban.
“Chelsea are very strong, but we’re not the weakest,” said Lucescu, who was the last visiting manager to win a group game here, with Besiktas in 2003.
“I prepare my players knowing all teams can be beaten, even Chelsea at home.”
The holders conceded 10 in the four matches Terry missed, and the captain was present in Ukraine when only Petr Cech kept the visitors afloat.
Chelsea boasted the ability to grind out results against Barca and Bayern Munich in the spring. That style has evolved since and there are valid questions over whether their more flamboyant approach can see them prevail against Europe’s more impressive sides, into whose number Shakhtar are hoping to burst. Yet the management are not for changing.