UNDER-FIRE Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo played down talk of dressing room unrest last night as he prepared for an evening in his native Italy that could determine whether he keeps his job.
Victory tonight at Juventus would book their place in the Champions League last 16, but defeat would leave them facing the likely prospect of becoming the first holders to crash out in the group stage.
Raised voices from the Chelsea dressing room were overheard following Saturday’s shock Premier League defeat at West Brom, prompting suggestions the team’s sudden slump had provoked mutiny.
It has only heightened the pressure on Di Matteo, despite him leading the Blues to an unlikely European Cup triumph just six months ago, yet he insists there is no problem among the squad.
“It’s important we communicate with each other and the players express themselves, I’ve always encouraged that,” he said. “There was frustration on Saturday because of the result and this is normal when results don’t go your way. We owe ourselves a performance and anything can happen, we’ve proved in the past that when it counts our players can be relied upon.”
Chelsea started the season strongly but have won just one in seven and take that dire form into a week that could have a decisive impact on their domestic and continental ambitions.
Defeat in Turin would leave them needing to beat Nordsjaelland in their final Group E match, and hope that Juventus lose to Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. Any other results in the final round would see Chelsea eliminated. Another reverse at home to Manchester City on Sunday, meanwhile, would leave them seven points off the pace in the Premier League and increase speculation that former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola could replace Di Matteo.
But he added: “I feel confident, we have a good team and know the importance of the match tomorrow, we know we have to play a good game. At the moment we are thinking positively. We played a good game at home against Juventus [the 2-2 home draw], it will be difficult tomorrow for sure, but they are under pressure to win the match as well, so it will make it an interesting game.”
Di Matteo stayed coy on suggestions he could drop £50m striker Fernando Torres, who has scored just once in seven games, and erratic central defender David Luiz, but left-back Ashley Cole is fit again.
He said: “There’s still another [training] session to do and we’ll see how the players are, then I’ll make the final decisions tonight.”
■ Chelsea can clinch qualification with a win while a draw would be a major boost too. Defeat, however, would leave them needing to beat Nordsjaelland and hope Juve to lose their final match in Donetsk
Draw on the cards?
■ Juventus have only won one of their four Group E fixtures, 4-0 last time out against Nordsjaelland, with goals from Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal, Sebastian Giovinco (above) and Fabio Quagliarella. The Danish whipping boys held the Italians in the previous match, while Juve also drew 1-1 at home to leaders Shakhtar Donetsk and 2-2 at Stamford Bridge
■ Quagliarella (left), who scored the equaliser at Chelsea, is Juve’s leading scorer this season with eight. Midfielder Vidal has chipped in with seven, while Nicklas Bendtner, on loan from Arsenal, is yet to score
■ This month’s defeat to Inter Milan was the first suffered by the club since their move to the 41,000-capacity Juventus Stadium last year. The 3-1 reverse also ended the 49-match unbeaten run with which the Bianconeri swept to the Serie A title last season. The champions currently lead the Italian top flight by four points from Inter