Di Matteo must keep Chelsea fit for purpose

Punishing schedule will take its toll even before Barcelona come to town

Before Manchester United beat Barcelona in the Champions' League semi-finals in 2008, keeping two clean sheets in the process, the team spent days honing their tactics. As Gary Neville later revealed, coach Carlos Queiroz even used sit-up mats on the training pitch "to mark exactly where he wanted our players to be, to the nearest yard. We rehearsed time and again, sometimes walking through the tactics slowly with the ball in our hands."

When Roberto Di Matteo prepares his team to play Barcelona on Wednesday, his first task will be to assess who is fit enough to play. With Chelsea playing Tottenham Hotspur in an FA Cup semi-final this evening, he will not know that until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. That will give the interim head coach one light training session with which to prepare a team to face the European champions.

"We've not had time to prepare the team because we have had matches," said Di Matteo on Friday. "I need to see how we get through the semi-final, that will be crucial for selection."

This is how it will be for Di Matteo until the end of a season which, if all goes to plan, Chelsea will conclude in Munich with a 13th match in 46 days. Tonight's game is the first of seven in 21 days.

Even with a squad the size of Chelsea's that is a draining schedule and one of the club's most important people in the next few weeks will be a Loughborough University graduate who has never played professional football.

Chris Jones is Chelsea's fitness and conditioning coach, a job which did not exist in football clubs 20 years ago but is now so important that Chelsea have them for their academy and reserve teams. Jones has only been in the post since Andre Villas-Boas left last month, taking Jose Mario Rocha with him. But he has been working with the first team since 2009 and he, Di Matteo and the coaches Eddie Newton and Steve Holland will be the men who determine how Chelsea juggle their resources as they compete for the FA Cup, the Champions' League and a top-four Premier League finish.

Chelsea looked very heavy-legged in the final stages of their draw at Fulham on Monday, their third match in six days, and the players were given Tuesday and Wednesday off, with instructions to take it easy.

"At this stage of the season the recovery is as important as the training," said Di Matteo. "The training sessions are very defined towards the next game, they are short sessions with not too much running."

The only players given a serious work-out will be those who have been rested for a match. Come the next match Di Matteo will consult the computers – players train with heart-rate monitors and their performances,in matches and training are logged. The final judgement is made by human eye.

"We have all the tools, but I always believe your eyes are the best judge because you are out there every day, you see the players' behaviour," said Di Matteo. "The data you use as a back-up to confirm or deny what you are thinking."

Football fitness has moved on exponentially since the advent of the Premier League, and Chelsea have often been to the fore. Glenn Hoddle brought some continental ideas to the club following his time at Monacounder Arsène Wenger, but it was the arrival of Ruud Gullit as manager in 2006 which brought the club into the modern era.

Gullit hired Ade Mafe, an Olympic sprint finalist, to become their first fitness and conditioning coach. Mafe became good friends with Di Matteo, then a Chelsea player, and subsequently worked for him at MK Dons and West Bromwich Albion.

"When I first came to Chelsea very few players did enough stretching," wrote Mafe in a book detailing his methods at the club. "All they wanted to do was play football, but I managed to persuade them that stretching is very important in terms of injury prevention. The majority of English players had not previously paid much attention to their physical condition. Bad physical conditioning and lack of maintenance led to injuries and early retirement."

It was not just exercise habits which needed changing. Mafe wrote: "When Ruud Gullit took over one of the first things he did was to change the food at the training ground. Out went the pies and chips and all fried food including cooked breakfasts."

Several of Chelsea's key players are in their thirties, notably Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and John Terry. They continue to defy suggestions that their time is up and developments in sports science and nutrition have a lot to do with that. Nevertheless, no one at Chelsea will be welcoming extra-time if it is required tonight.

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur is on ITV1 today, kick-off 6pm

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
election 2015
Sport
Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his goal for Real Madrid against Juventus
football
Voices
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
voicesArmando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)
film
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
Fans take a selfie with Ed Miliband in Kempston, near Bedford, on Tuesday
election 2015
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

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'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power