Chelsea eye AC Milan mark as they open case for Champions League defence against Juventus


Chelsea begin the hardest challenge in football tonight. Winning the Champions League is tough enough. Retaining the most prestigious trophy in the game, though, is something else – and another feat Roberto Di Matteo is determined to accomplish.

During the Champions League era no team has won the trophy in consecutive years. It was last successfully retained as the old European Cup, when the Milan side featuring Marco van Basten, Franco Baresi and Ruud Gullit won it in 1989 and 1990.

Better teams than Di Matteo's, it must be said, have tried and failed. Pep Guardiola's Barcelona were blocked out in the semi-finals in both 2010 and 2012. In the Champions League era only four holders have ever even reached the final next time and lost: Milan in 1995, Ajax in 1996, Juventus in 1997 and Manchester United in 2009.

But who would have predicted six or 12 months ago that Stamford Bridge would be adorned tonight with the livery of European champions? Not many when they lost 3-1 in Naples in February, precipitating Andre Villas-Boas's departure as manager. Not many when John Terry was sent off in the Nou Camp, or when Andres Iniesta put Barcelona 2-1 ahead. "It has just proven so far to everybody impossible to win it twice," said Di Matteo last night. "It will be difficult, for sure, but we will try, try to do the impossible."

For eight years Chelsea had been striving to be European champions. Now they are, Di Matteo knows the focus needs to move on. "There's always new challenges every season, a club like Chelsea will always try to win trophies and be successful," he said. "It's not looking back at what you achieved, that's done and dusted."

Having upset more accomplished teams in Napoli, Benfica, Barcelona and Bayern Munich last year, Di Matteo knows that Chelsea are now on a pedestal and the constantly improving quality in the tournament will make his season very difficult. "I think [the difficulty of retaining] is because of the fierce competition that there is the Champions League," he said. "Every season gets new strong teams coming in like PSG and Juventus and so on. That makes it very, very difficult. Our players, they've got experience and confidence. I think every team now will face us with a little bit extra motivation because they're playing against the title holders."

John Obi Mikel knows the atmosphere is slightly different this season. "It does add pressure to us but at the same time we are more relaxed," he said. "We've done it. This club has done it now. But we don't want to relax. We want to build on what we did last season."

And yet Juventus have two European Cups of their own, as well as 28 domestic titles, and Di Matteo acknowledged their challenge. "They are a very strong team, everybody recognises that," he said. "They have quality, experience, some dynamic players. They are probably one of the most difficult teams you could be drawn against."

Last week he identified Pierluigi Casiraghi, Alessandro Del Piero and Angelo Peruzzi as three of the few players he knew who had mental strength comparable to that of John Terry.

He knows that even with Antonio Conte, another member of their Champions League-winning side of 1996, suspended as coach, they will bear his mark on the pitch. "I expect a Juve who want to play their game," he predicted. "That is the Conte way. They like to get on the ball and attack but we will try to eliminate the spaces on the pitch and fight back."

Orchestrating it all is Andrea Pirlo, a genuine giant of the game and a man who helped to bring Juventus the Serie A title last season. "He is an extremely talented player, which since his switch to Juventus he has shown again," Di Matteo said. "But it is not just him."


Get Adobe Flash player


Kick-off 7.45pm, Stamford Bridge

TV Sky Sports 2.

Referee P Proenca (Port)

Odds Chelsea 6-5 Draw 11-5 Juventus 13-5

election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'