2nd May, 2012
Roberto Di Matteo has admitted that having to contest a Premier League game with Newcastle United only three days before the FA Cup final is “not ideal” but said he will not field a weakened side against Alan Pardew’s team in order to preserve key players for the match against Liverpool at Wembley on Saturday.
“I have not done that in the past,” said Di Matteo. “We played Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup semi-final a few days before playing Barcelona in the Champions League and we put out a strong team. I’ve always tried to put together a team to win the game, looking at our physical and mental state. When I pick the team for the Newcastle game, I will not be thinking about Saturday.”
Chelsea will qualify for next season’s Champions League automatically if they defeat Bayern Munich in this season’s final but Di Matteo does not want to risk relying solely on that route and is intent on also finishing in the Premier League’s top four, which Chelsea have done every season since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003.
They are fifth, a point behind Newcastle and Tottenham and, even though they will end this season with their lowest points total of the Abramovich era even if they win all three of their remaining league matches, reaching the top four would be regarded as a triumph given the turmoil the club appeared to be in when Di Matteo took charge in March, following the departure of André Villas-Boas.
Di Matteo admitted that juggling his club’s resources through such a hectic period is “very challenging” but said it was the price Chelsea are paying for not giving priority to one tournament over another. Liverpool will enjoy an extra day’s preparation for the final on Saturday by dint of playing Fulham on Tuesday rather than Wednesday.
“It’s very challenging and demanding – physically, mentally, everything,” Di Matteo said. “We are doing our best to keep them as fresh as possible, to put out a team that has enough energy to win the game. The fixture list has not been generous to us this season but that’s how it is.
“It’s not ideal playing three days before a final It would have been better to play [against Newcastle] on the weekend but because of how well we’ve done in the Champions League and FA Cup it’s been rescheduled like this. All the games are important – we obviously tried to stay in all the competitions, we didn’t want to just throw anything away.
“Fortunately we are in a position where we are still fighting on three fronts, which is great for this club. There’s not much time between the games and it’s challenging, but it’s also exciting because we have so many targets to play for. It’s better to be like this than not to have any targets.”
Although Di Matteo says that questions as to whether he will be given a long-term contract to manage Chelsea at the end of this season are “irrelevant”, he commended the Football Association for appointing Roy Hodgson as England’s manager. “Roy is a gentleman, a very good coach and a very good manager,” said Di Matteo of the man who replaced him at West Bromwich Albion after he was sacked in February 2011. “England would be a difficult for anybody but I think he’s got all of the experience that you need for a national team. He has got results wherever he has been. I don’t know about public opinion but among his fellow professionals he’s very highly rated. He’s a fantastic manager.”