Di Matteo plays straight bat before semi-final
Harry Redknapp's Tottenham mirror their creator: impromptu, entertaining and sometimes too open for their own good. Fortunately for Chelsea fans at Wembley tomorrow, and watching neutrals, their team does not reflect its current steward.
While Redknapp's public appearances wouldn't look out of place on Comedy Central, Roberto di Matteo can resemble a smart politician on Newsnight. His words are carefully chosen, usually free from controversy and largely short of gags. This is a serious, thoughtful man.
If Chelsea give away as little at Wembley as Di Matteo did at Cobham yesterday, the semi-final is headed for penalties. Naturally – for Di Matteo is not a coach likely to leave anything to chance – Chelsea have been practising them. "We always do," he said. "The whole squad on a regular basis. It's impossible to replicate the pressure or atmosphere of a shoot-out but I believe practice helps."
Penalties, however, would only follow extra-time, which is surely the last thing Chelsea need with Barcelona due at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. If it is 1-1 with 10 minutes to go, would Di Matteo gamble to win or see out the 90? "I'm not a gambler. If I make a change to win the game, it's not because I'm gambling. I'm doing it because I think it's the right move. Whatever it takes for us to reach the final we will do. But we're not going to throw anything away, absolutely not."
Di Matteo has never lost to Spurs, as a player or manager, so does he hold a hex over them? "The stats help to a certain extent, but then you need to get on the pitch and write the history of that game. The stats are in the past."
Gareth Bale has said that Tottenham will win, as they are the better team. Was that provocative? Is he right? "We respect his opinion and we'll see on Sunday. Obviously I don't agree." Why have Spurs suffered a dip in form? Any theories? "No, but it's welcomed by us." Will the owner [Roman Abramovich] be there at Wembley? "You'll see."
Will the owner judge you not on the FA Cup, but the Champions League and Premier League? "You're judged by your results. A good result on Sunday will be very good for everyone involved. After that, we'll take on the next challenge."
And so on. Di Matteo did not accept invitations to re-open the dispute over the tie's Sunday-night scheduling or respond to the FA's rejection of Branislav Ivanovic's appeal against a three-match ban for punching Wigan's Shaun Maloney last weekend.
In all it was a master class in the art of answering questions without saying very much. If his players – who should include the fit-again Ashley Cole – are as calm and in command as the interim head coach, Di Matteo will become the eighth Chelsea manager in 18 years, after Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli, Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti, to reach the FA Cup final. Win or lose, all were gone within two seasons.
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