It was not long ago, in a magical night in Munich that Roberto Di Matteo lifted the Champions League trophy and pointed to the team owner, a certain Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich. The coveted trophy had found a new home at Stamford Bridge, one that Abramovich had craved ever since he bought the London club and signed superstars after superstars. It was fantasy football in action, the kind of games many of us indulge in on Football Manager games. The trophy was won and commentators everywhere noted that Di Matteo had to get the Chelsea job on a permanent basis. The club wavered, looked for replacements, but chose to stick with him. The indications were clear. Di Matteo had steered the veterans at Chelsea to a trophy their talent demanded and had eluded till then. But the league form was patchy to say the least. The task on Di Matteo's hand was two fold. One, to show that Chelsea's win was no flash in the pan. Two, to become genuines contenders for the Premier League title again.
Chelsea were decimated by a certain Colombian hitman in the Super Cup glamour tie after their perfect start to the new premier league campain. They simply failed to cope with the energy and movement shown by Atletico players and the lethal finishing of Falcao. Falcao probably chose the stage to show why Chelsea and a host of other European clubs wanted to get him in the summer.
The onus was on Chelsea to win against QPR on Saturday to show that all was well at the club. They failed to score and the match ended in a 0-0 draw. But the tactics of Di Matteo left a lot to be desired. Credit to QPR players who made a meal of the match but Chelsea were hampered by some bizarre managerial decisions that certainly aided the Rangers.
Di Matteo chose to begin with Ryan Bertrand on the left flank and Ramires on the right hands side. Mata was absent and thus the playmaking mantle was donned solely by Eden Hazard. Hazard had warned fans not to expect stratopheric performance everytime he stepped on the pitch.
Di Matteo's fascination with Bertrand is beyond logic. He is not a winger and his contributions to attacking play is nothing in most matches. He helps out Ashley Cole in his defensive duties. And if the idea was to let the two full backs, Cole and Ivanovic, Di Matteo would have done well to hand Azpicuellita his debut game. He is far more attacking than Ivanovic is. Ramires is a willing runner but certainly does not have the play making skills of Juan Mata. When the suqad has players like Victor Moses and Oscar, selecting Bertrand time and again makes no sense at all. It was evident that Chelsea's attacking play was far better when Moses came on.
The end result was that there was no creativity in Chelsea's play yet again. Torres stormed down the tunnel after he was substituted. Agreed, the Spain forward had an ineffectual game again but the fault this time lay with Di Matteo's ultra defensive tactics. If the idea was to block Shaun Wright Philips's mazy runs by doubling up on him, it failed. For most of the match, Wright Philips ran against Cole and Cole thwarted him every single time, thus questioning the need to have an extra passenger in the form of Bertrand.
Although these are still early days for the premier league, but matches like these count for a lot towards the end of the season. Chelsea should have beaten QPR, plain and simple. They did not exhibit any creativity, except for some initial attempts, by Torres and Hazard.
Di Matteo has to understand that his squad has been replenished with some genuinely attacking talent and he has to find a way to use them. Not using them at all is hardly an excuse. Every team is not a world beating Barcelona side that he has to put Bertrand on the left flank, at the cost of genuines midfielders. The sooner he explores the potential of his midfielders, the sooner will Chelsa get to their goal. On the evidence of current performances, it is not wild conjecture that bigger rivals would find it relatively less cumbersom to defeat Chelsea.