Sport : Football

Di Matteo happy with midfield

15th September 2012, 02:39pm

Roberto Di Matteo: Looking for balance

Roberto Di Matteo: Looking for balance

Roberto Di Matteo has shrugged off concerns over Chelsea's midfield options as they prepare for the defence of their European title.

The Blues kick off their Champions League campaign against Juventus on Wednesday with all eyes on how they approach this season's competition.

If their UEFA Super Cup thrashing by Atletico Madrid two weeks ago is anything to go by, it will be with reckless abandon and scant regard for the qualities that saw them finally crowned European champions.

That may please the so-called football purists, who decried the negative tactics that helped end Chelsea's agonising wait for Champions League glory, but it would also appear to damage their hopes of becoming the first side to retain the title since its rebranding.

Di Matteo is too much of a pragmatist to want to risk anything like a repeat of the debacle in Monaco and, regardless of the pressure to entertain from within and without, will be seeking the "balance" that is fast becoming his mantra.

The question is whether he now has the personnel to do that, with Chelsea having allowed many of their more defensive-minded players to leave, especially in the engine room of the team.

On the night they were being torn apart by Atletico, Michael Essien was sealing a season-long loan move to Real Madrid.

Three days later, Raul Meireles was sold to Fenerbahce, leaving John Obi Mikel as Chelsea's only bone-fide, experienced, sitting midfielder.

But Di Matteo has denied he now lacks cover for the Nigerian, giving a vote of confidence to Oriol Romeu and confirming he is considering asking Ramires to resume playing an anchor role when required.

"We have Oriol Romeu, who played some very important games last season, and Ramires, so we have enough cover," the Chelsea boss said, defending the sale of Meireles.

"The player has got a new contract somewhere else with a very good club, and the offer the club received was good.

"In agreement, they both decided it was probably the best way to go forward."

The backing of Romeu appears slightly disingenuous considering the Spaniard has been the biggest loser of Di Matteo's tenure.

Romeu featured only twice under Di Matteo last season - in the two Barclays Premier League games that essentially involved fringe men - and had not played a minute this term going into this weekend.

Ramires arrived at Stamford Bridge as a holding midfielder but flourished after being let off the leash in a more attacking role. Curbing those instincts could prove difficult.

That has certainly been the case for Frank Lampard amid Di Matteo's attempts to convert him to an anchorman, which would not necessarily be a major problem but for Mikel's apparent attempts to reinvent himself as a marauding midfielder.

Both he and Lampard simply abandoned their defensive duties against Atletico as Chelsea's transformation from a compact, counter-attacking team to one that attempts to dominate the opposition hit a major roadblock.

"We had a bad start in that game and it was an uphill struggle after that," Di Matteo admitted, with typical understatement.

Even if Lampard and Mikel perform with more discipline, those in front of them will also need to play a part when Chelsea do not have the ball.

As much as the Blues lost a talismanic goalscorer this summer in Didier Drogba, they also lost a real workhorse - the same could be said about Salomon Kalou - and Fernando Torres, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard now need to take up that mantle.

But it is what Chelsea do in the holding positions that could determine how long their Champions League defence lasts.

Moving permanently from one to two anchors was the major tactical change Di Matteo implemented after replacing Andre Villas-Boas last season and he would do well to remember that in the coming days.

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