Monday, June 24, 2024
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Chelsea sack Di Matteo after loss to Juve

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LONDON: Just Six months after guiding Chelsea to an unlikely Champions League title, Roberto Di Matteo was fired on Wednesday with the team on the brink of becoming the first defending champion eliminated from the group stage.

Di Matteo, who was hired on a permanent basis in June, was dismissed a day after a 3-0 loss to Juventus in Turin left Chelsea’s title defence in tatters.

Chelsea are also struggling in the Premier League, having picked up just two points from their last four games to fall to third place.

”The team’s recent performances and results have not been good enough and the owner and the board felt that a change was necessary now to keep the club moving in the right direction as we head into a vitally important part of the season,” Chelsea said in a statement.

There was no immediate announcement on a replacement for Di Matteo, but former Liverpool and Inter Milan coach Rafa Benitez has been heavily linked with the job. Pep Guardiola, currently on a break from coaching after leaving Barcelona at the end of last season, will also be a contender.

”The club will be making an announcement shortly regarding a new first team manager,” the statement said.

Chelsea was in disarray when Di Matteo, then an assistant coach, took over from the fired Andre Villas-Boas in March, initially on a temporary basis. The Italian brought together squabbling factions within the squad and led the team first to the FA Cup title and then the Champions League, beating Barcelona in the semifinals and then Bayern Munich in the final.

Di Matteo, with his typical coolness, was also praised for the way he handled a racism case involving John Terry that engulfed the club. Chelsea is in the middle of another racism incident, having accused a Premier League referee of abusing one of its players.

However, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has showed his ruthless edge following the team’s first disappointing run of results this season. Di Matteo’s successor would be the ninth manager under the Russian billionaire since he bought the club in 2003.

Chelsea is in third place in Group E behind Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus with one match left.

The Blues next face Danish club FC Nordsjaelland, but they could still be eliminated even if they win depending on the result of the other game.

In the Premier League, Chelsea had been leading for much of the season but now trails Manchester City and Manchester United.

”The club faces a difficult task ahead in qualifying for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League as well as maintaining a strong challenge for the top of the Premier League while competing in three other cup competitions. Our aim is to remain as competitive as possible and challenge strongly on all fronts,” Chelsea said.

Chelsea’s next game will be a home Premier League match against Manchester City on Sunday.

The 42-year-old Di Matteo is a Swiss-born Italian who played for Italy’s national team and also served as a midfielder for Chelsea. After his retirement, he went into coaching and led both the MK Dons and West Bromwich Albion before joining Chelsea’s backroom staff.

”We will never forget the huge contribution he has made to this club’s history,” Chelsea’s statement said.

Benitez has been out of work since being fired by Inter in December 2010. Although experienced, the appointment of Benitez would raise eyebrows given his trademark defensive approach.

Abramovich is widely known to prefer his team to show a more attacking style, demonstrating this by spending heavily on attacking midfielders Oscar, Eden Hazard and Victor Moses in the close season.

In Tuesday’s match, in which star striker Fernando Torres occupied the bench for all but the last 20 minutes, Fabio Quagliarella gave Juventus a 38th minute lead with a deflected shot and Arturo Vidal’s second half effort was also diverted past Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech on the hour.

Sebastian Giovinco rounded off a dazzling performance from Juventus with a breakaway third in stoppage time.

“We said before the game that we have our destiny in our hands, not any more,” Chelsea keeper Petr Cech said.

“Now we need to do our bit, we need to win our last game and hope our fate is kind. Being realistic Juventus played very well and they need just a point and Shakhtar are already through.

“It’s a very sad moment.”

Di Matteo raised eyebrows when he left Britain’s most expensive but misfiring striker out of the starting lineup, a decision which meant that Chelsea began the game without a recognised centre-forward.

Torres was also sacrificed when Spain played without a striker at Euro 2012, which they went on to win, but Chelsea’s experiment with the system and so-called “false number nines” proved less successful.

Chelsea alternated Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata in the forward role, a tactic which allowed Chelsea to create several good chances in the opening half hour despite Juventus dominating possession.

Juve need a point at Shakhtar to guarantee a place in the last 16 while Chelsea’s only chance of qualifying is to beat bottom side Nordsjaelland and hope the Italians lose in Ukraine. (Agencies)

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