Di Matteo overshadowed by captain on eve of biggest test

Italian barely gets a word in as show is stolen by John Terry, who is confident Chelsea can keep European dream alive

If Roberto Di Matteo wished to project an image of being in control of Chelsea nine days after he took the caretaker manager's job, then it was arguably not the best idea to sit alongside John Terry as he last night gave his first press conference since he was stripped of the England captaincy.

To say that Di Matteo was a peripheral figure on the eve of the biggest night of his managerial career was an understatement. There were 14 questions for Terry and four for Di Matteo, although three of those were from the Italian reporters in the room who will remember him from his days at Lazio. This was, unmistakably, the John Terry show.

Given that Terry was at pains to point out, in the wake of another managerial sacking, that it was the owner, Roman Abramovich, and his board who run the club and not the players, the image presented was a little unfortunate. Terry has not given a set-piece press conference of this kind since before his last game as England captain against Sweden in November and he was always going to be the star attraction.

It meant at times it was easy to forget that tonight against Napoli, chasing a 3-1 deficit from the first leg, Chelsea are on the precipice of a humiliating exit from the Champions League in the first knockout round. It does not look promising when you consider that the Premier League's last representatives in the competition have not won any of their last five home games in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Every year Chelsea's failure to win the competition – be it at a relatively early stage, or even losing in the final – has been accompanied by much handwringing and dark mutterings about the manager's future. It is a sign of how much they have struggled this season that a dignified exit tonight – with a win over Napoli – would not be considered a disaster. Failing to qualify for the tournament next season? Now that would be a calamity.


For a time yesterday all those fears and concerns were put to one side as Terry tackled the big issues. When he was asked by Gazzetta dello Sport's London correspondent to speak about Capello, in a delicately framed question, Terry glanced anxiously for a moment at the club official to his right who had earlier forbidden any questions on England and then ploughed on anyway.

When the "issues swirling around" Terry were alluded to, he replied, somewhat incredibly, "With all what swirling around?" Where to start? We could have been there all day. But for Terry it came down to the simple matter of how he had performed on the pitch before his operation last month and then subsequently against Stoke City on Saturday and he was confident his performances had been good.

There was a good deal more warmth towards Capello from Terry than there was for the sacked Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas, who was given the usual sympathy for paying the price for the team's failings. In fairness, there are others in the squad who will have had greater reason to dislike Villas-Boas than the captain who remained a mainstay of the team.

Having missed the first leg through injury, Terry insisted that the tie could be rescued tonight, although he stopped short of last year's insistence before the Champions League first leg against Copenhagen, which came during another lull in the team's fortunes, that the team "man up".

He said: "We've gained a lot of experience over the years. The one thing that does stay with me is the disappointment from those nights: against Monaco, Barcelona; in Moscow, clearly. In my mind, the only way to overcome that is to come through, kick on and go on and win this competition. It's the one trophy missing from our cabinet. I've got a few years in me yet, and I really hope I can bring this trophy to the Bridge."

Yet the chances are that it will not be this year and if, indeed, Chelsea do lose to Napoli and exit the competition in the first knockout round, for the first time since defeat to Jose Mourinho's Internazionale two years ago, then Di Matteo will have more modest goals. First to beat Leicester City on Sunday in the FA Cup quarter-final and then to continue progressing in the league against Manchester City on Wednesday.

That is the realistic approach to the situation should Chelsea go out tonight, a damage limitation exercise with the possibility that the new manager can rebuild in the summer. When Terry was asked whether this was his last chance, he reiterated his belief that he is moving closer, rather than further away, to winning the competition.

"Listen, we don't feel cursed. We've been unfortunate in previous big nights here. You need a quality team to go on and win this competition, allied with a bit of luck which we've missed out on. But I know we've still got an abundance of quality here, and the determination buzzing around that dressing room to make this happen. We are as prepared as we can be. It's now the responsibility of the players."

Terry's belief in his own longevity will have been strengthened by the fact the club have kept a clean sheet in the last five games in which he has started. There is clearly a necessity to refresh this Chelsea team that has not been attended to over the years but, at 31, Terry remains the best defender at the club.

He will have to be at his best tonight if Chelsea are to stop the golden attacking trio of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marek Hamsik and Edinson Cavani, who were all involved in Friday's 6-3 home win over Cagliari in Serie A. This is not a team that are likely to be intimidated by playing at Stamford Bridge.

"The players have been through this pressure before," Di Matteo said. "The team will know what to do. It will be a strong team." But it was not him doing most of the talking.

Key confrontations: Chelsea v Napoli

John Terry v Edinson Cavani

In Naples, David Luiz and Gary Cahill could not handle the movement and power of Cavani. The return of John Terry should be an improvement, but even then he is not the quickest and may struggle to contain the bounding Uruguayan striker.

Michael Essien v Marek Hamsik

The return of Michael Essien after a long spell out has firmed up Chelsea's midfield at a difficult time. They will need him close to his ferocious, destructive best to stay close to Hamsik, who likes to move between the lines and slip passes through.


Juan Mata v Walter Gargano

Chelsea's most creative player must try to drift away from the attentions of Gargano, who, with Gokhan Inler, forms a midfield shield which is not easy to penetrate.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all