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.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
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

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game