There will be no room for sentiment for Roberto di Matteo when his Schalke side take on the team he led to Champions League glory in 2012, Chelsea, on Tuesday night in Gelsenkirchen. Di Matteo, who sensationally guided Chelsea to their first European Cup as an interim manager, needs a win against his former employers to avoid going into the final round of the Champions League group phase with Schalke’s hopes of progress out of their hands.
“After the game maybe there will be some emotions for me, but it is a match between Schalke and Chelsea and we will focus on that,” he said at his press conference on Tuesday, reports UEFA.com. “Honestly, I am not thinking about Munich 2012 that much. I am a person looking forward, not backwards -- I live in the present, even though lots of people keep reminding me of that night.
“I spent many years of my life at Chelsea and still know many people who work there – players as well. But that's more a private thing and has nothing to do with my job. A win would mean three points for us and a very good position in this group. I have no thoughts of revenge – I had a wonderful time there with lots of wonderful people.”
Di Matteo has experienced a mixed start to his reign in Germany. Having been out of work since his dismissal by Chelsea just six months after lifting the European Cup, the Swiss-Italian was recruited six weeks ago to replace Jens Keller and become the latest man charged with fulfilling the club’s substantial potential. After back-to-back wins to begin his tenure, he has overseen three defeats in five matches to leave Schalke in seventh place in the Bundesliga and with life complicated in the Champions League. A 4-2 loss at Sporting Lisbon means they remain ahead of the Portuguese side, who host Group G’s bottom club Maribor on Tuesday, by a solitary point.
Chelsea know full well not to underestimate the Slovenian outfit, however. Jose Mourinho’s men were expected to secure passage to the last 16 in Maribor three weeks ago, but instead had to come from a goal down to secure a draw that was confirmed after Eden Hazard missed a late penalty. With Chelsea’s final match against Sporting on Dec. 10 coming in the midst of a run of eight games in December, Mourinho is keen to get the three points in Gelsenkirchen that would sew up progress.
“We have two matches to do it but obviously it would be better for us to qualify tomorrow,” Mourinho said, reports Chelsea’s official website. “We have so many matches in December if we can avoid a crucial match to decide the qualification for the Champions League, if we can avoid that pressure, it would be very good for us. The reality is we need points and we are going to try to do it tomorrow but if we don’t, we have the last game against Sporting to try and stay in the competition.”
Chelsea, which will also secure top spot in the group with a win, remain undefeated in all competitions this season and continued their seemingly inexorable march toward the Premier League title on Saturday with a comfortable 2-0 win over West Brom at Stamford Bridge. Diego Costa opened the scoring to take his tally since joining from last season’s Champions League runners-up Atletico Madrid to 11. Still, Mourinho was keen to give praise to his entire squad.
“Without the team Diego has behind him, Diego is nothing,” he added. “He’s playing well and scoring goals but the team is producing a lot. It’s not fair to speak about individuals when the team is very good. You look to our team and the players we brought in – Thibaut [Courtois], [Cesc] Fabregas, Diego, Filipe [Luis] -- and all of them are improving the team.”
Prediction: Chelsea produced one of their poorest displays of the season when they let an early lead slip to draw 1-1 at home to Schalke in September. Mourinho’s men were similarly lackluster in Maribor, but there should be renewed focus on Tuesday, given that a defeat would leave them in an uncomfortable position going into the final match at home to Sporting. Di Matteo has focused on the basics since taking up the reigns at Schalke, just as he did initially at Chelsea, but uncertainty remains as to just what his preferred style of play is and just how good he is. Missing Julian Draxler, who was so influential at Stamford Bridge, as well as the pace of Jefferson Farfan, Di Matteo could be left deflated by Chelsea once again.
Prediction: Schalke 1-2 Chelsea
Kickoff time: 2.45 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 2