At the start of this season I never believed I'd be writing anything like this. We had just hired a relatively brilliant young manager who had just had an unprecedented run of success both domestically and in Europe. The last time we went that route we ended up with some of the most exciting seasons in our club's history, and as it turned out, this season would be no different. Andre Villas Boas was a man of extremes, a manager who felt so strongly about his attacking system that he'd put it in place despite the obvious lack of pieces to run it. His overwhelming belief that this style of play was the correct one would lead to fractures in the dressing room and with the media, and he'd take a hard line stance in dealing with both groups. In the end, this is likely what led to his sacking and the appointment of Roberto Di Matteo.
Di Matteo was never supposed to be the long term answer for the job. He was simply a temporary stop gap...someone who had been with the club and could provide some stability until we had a chance to chase our top targets over the summer. He'd been adequate in his previous job with West Brom, keeping them out of harms way in the Premier League before his surprising dismissal. With that in mind, I don't think anyone expected that at the end of the season Chelsea would be lifting both the FA Cup and the Champions League trophy. We did though, and common sense would now dictate that Di Matteo has proven his credentials and should be the man for the job going forward. I'm not entirely convinced though, and after the jump I'll get into why.
As mentioned above, AVB was certainly a man of extremes. He did not care about the Carling Cup, and the squads he ran out for that competition clearly indicated that. The opposite was true for the other three competitions we were involved in though, to the point that you'd see a near full strength squad for each and every fixture after we were eliminated from the Carling Cup. Guys like Ryan Bertrand, Salomon Kalou, and Romelu Lukaku were nowhere to be seen. He had his favorite players, and the rest of the squad was relegated to the edges of our consciousness. He'd run his in form favorites out for 7 or 8 games in a row, and when those players inevitably tired he'd relegate them to the bench for a month or so due to their poor form of late.
Di Matteo was the opposite in many respects, but in the end he was no less extreme. He clearly prioritized the cup competitions from day 1, in doing so he actually managed a lower winning percentage in the league than we had under AVB. From the time he took over, we took a mere 18 points out of 33 available in the league. 23 would have seen us match Spurs, possibly avoiding the must win game we had yesterday. Part of that was due to his extreme squad rotation, often changing all 10 outfield players between one match and the next. Di Matteo clearly had his favorites as well, but his preferences wouldn't cost anybody significant playing time.
Tactically Di Matteo was no less extreme than his predecessor. While AVB was far too attack minded, Di Matteo was the opposite. Like AVB, he had his bread and butter formation that he'd use basically every match. Regardless of the personnel he'd use on any given occasion, they'd be plugged into his 4-2-3-1 formation. Unlike AVB though, it was defense first for Roberto. His units would be well drilled defensively, rarely conceding silly goals. They'd generally struggle in the attack though, rarely scoring more than twice.
There was no better example of AVB's extreme tactics than our last 4 cup games. The two legs against Barcelona, the FA Cup final, and the game yesterday against Bayern Munich were all games where we sat back and countered. While it's a good strategy overall, I really did take some issue with the extreme to which we took that measure yesterday. Bayern are a very good club, but I don't believe we needed to take the defensive approach that far. We invited loads pf pressure, and on most occasions that approach would have led to a thoroughly dominating defeat. I'm not convinced we needed to go to that sort of extreme to beat this Bayern squad, from the 83rd minute on we certainly looked more than capable of coming out of our shell to pose a threat occasionally. I'd even go so far as to say we looked like the better team towards the end of the match.
With that in mind, Di Matteo had his side drilled to absolute perfection yesterday. While Bayern had an unbelievable number of shots, Chelsea blocked an incredible 22. When Bayern did get a shot by the defense, it was often off target due to their great positioning. Petr Cech was perfectly schooled on Bayern's tendencies, getting a hand on 4 out of 6 Bayern penalties and saving a ridiculous 3. We had 1 corner, we executed perfectly. The preparation for Barcelona was no less amazing, and in that regard Di Matteo has absolutely been fantastic.
In the end, I'm unsure what I'd like the club to do with it's managerial vacancy. Di Matteo has achieved what nobody before him has been able to do, that alone should warrant him some serious consideration. Unlike all the others, though, he set about it at the expense of the league. Chelsea will be playing for an incredible 7 trophies next season (counting the community shield), and that's going to be an awful lot of fixtures. Most fans (myself included) will not be satisfied to see our league place suffer again in our quest for other trophies. A less rigid manager may be what we need for success on multiple fronts, then again, it may not. That's a problem for slightly later though, for the rest of the day let's just enjoy what happened in Munich yesterday. Thanks for saving our season Robbie, whatever happens going forward we'll always remember that.