James Lawton: Di Matteo gives AVB a lesson in tranquillity

The caretaker of a thousand cares could hardly have looked less perturbed

Did anyone ever hold a fort more phlegmatically, more sensibly than Roberto Di Matteo?

These may not be the qualities required to ambush Barcelona if Chelsea manage to march on the foundations of last night's triumph at the Estado da Luz – or make a new team from the residue of Jose Mourinho's work – but in the cuffing aside of Benfica there was something impressively authentic to behold.

It was the sight of a team who looked to be demonstrably in the care of professional hands. Benfica were somewhat flattered by their lingering presence in the great tournament but then they were given hardly a scrap of encouragement.

Chelsea were on top of their opponents – and in control of themselves. That may be far from ultimate praise at this level of the game but when you consider all that had gone before, it will do very nicely for some time.

By half-time Chelsea had the look of a fighter who had taken his opponent's best shots and was beginning to shake his head in disdain. If this was more than an illusion, it was a tribute to the ill-considered cornerman Di Matteo.

His decision not to start the voluble old guard of Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, and also Michael Essien, may have raised eyebrows, if anything short of full-scale insurrection is likely to achieve this in the current affairs of the club, but it seemed as if no one had mentioned it. If they had, the caretaker of a thousand cares, could hardly have looked less perturbed as he chewed his gum with something approaching serenity.

 

Certainly, he seemed to be occupying a different planet – almost a sea of tranquillity, in fact – to his tortured predecessor Andre Villas-Boas.

He is, after all, for the moment at least a man who has nothing to lose but a temporary foothold on the most severe case of shifting sands in all of the game.

A recent report that Roman Abramovich may be hatching a £40m overture to Barcelona's Pep Guardiola was guaranteed to provoke only a shrug in the phlegmatic Italian-Swiss – as was the most perilous first-half moment when Bruno Cesar played a sublime ball into the path of the normally acute opportunist Oscar Cardozo.

The bad moment passed and so did another early in the second half when a ferocious ground shot from Cardozo was stopped with great composure by David Luiz, who was making the happiest of returns to an old hunting ground.

However, the second assault was more calculated to disturb Di Matteo's equilibrium. It was not what he might have anticipated after a first half in which the running of Ramires, a fierce shot from Raul Meireles and fresh signs of the potential reincarnation of Fernando Torres indeed reminded you of a fighter coming out of his shell.

It was at this stage a much different Chelsea to the one which was was so overwhelmed by Napoli in the first leg of the previous round – and a much more composed figure on the touchline.

Whatever the long odds against Di Matteo succeeding permanently the distraught Villas-Boas, it was hard not to believe this was evidence of an approach that might have served well his inexperienced predecessor. This was a team living, and operating, in the moment, which is not so easy to do when you are constantly being told you are the sure-fire victims of a major project of transition.

Di Matteo also seemed to have timed the restoration of Lampard with some precision. Meireles had a yellow card and a hard time dealing with the baiting of the Portuguese crowd and the arrival of Lampard coincided with a lifting of a Benfica siege which, it has to be said, never matched in sharpness or persistence the one laid down so menacingly to Chelsea's prospects in Naples.

Juan Mata might have removed the need for the drama of Stamford Bridge in the second leg against the Italians when he found himself facing an open goal, admittedly from an acute angle, but soon enough the advantage was gained when Torres exposed again the languid pace of the Benfica cover and laid on the cross for the admirable Salomon Kalou to score the precious away goal.

Benfica certainly weren't Napoli but they were the team who helped remove Manchester United from the Champions League and they carried considerable momentum into this tie. Their problem was that they faced a side of considerable organisation and no little concerted spirit. There were also a few perceptible remnants of a formidable force.

Not too many of Chelsea's beaten opponents this season have been able to reach for such an excuse, which was of course still another tribute to the man who had been given the job of picking up the pieces.

A likely place in the semi-finals of the Champions League and one achieved in the FA Cup may well be considered something more than some rather tidy housework.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape