Di Matteo bullish despite Lampard lacking in faith

Chelsea manager dismisses patchy form and insists team can beat Benfica tonight

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The Independent Online

Roberto Di Matteo last night attempted to bolster his Chelsea team's morale ahead of tonight's Champions League quarter-final first-leg tie against Benfica, following a withering assessment of their season from Frank Lampard.

The Chelsea caretaker manager said that he still believed he had "quality" in his side and that they could rescue a difficult season by making the semi-finals and claiming one of the Champions League places, in spite of midfielder Lampard saying that Chelsea had declined. "The fixtures and where we are in the table doesn't lie – we're not as good as we used to be," the England midfielder told Chelsea TV.

Lampard said that Chelsea's home form had been their downfall this season and was damning of the performance against Tottenham on Saturday. "You know that a derby against a very good Tottenham side is going to be tough but I don't think we were at it enough," he said.

In Lisbon last night, Di Matteo was forced to defend the progress of his team at a press conference at the Estadio da Luz with Chelsea's chairman, Bruce Buck, and chief executive, Ron Gourlay, watching from the back of the room. The last time the two Chelsea directors observed a press conference away from home in the Champions League was when Andre Villas-Boas called on the board to make a public affirmation of its support for him before the Napoli tie in the previous round.

Asked whether Lampard's assessment of his team was fair, Di Matteo (left) said: "We've had a difficult season. The numbers say that, so there is no point in denying it's been a difficult season. But we have quality in this team and many good players."

Chelsea have not won in their last five away ties in the Champions League, going back to a win in Denmark over Copenhagen in the first knockout round of the competition last season. They are five points off Tottenham in fourth place in the Premier League with eight games to play but yesterday Di Matteo put on a brave face.

He said: "We are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The season has been very difficult for us. Chelsea used to be in the top two or top three, at least. So it's been hard for us, domestically. But we're in the semi-finals of a domestic cup, and in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. I have faith in this team."

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