Roberto Di Matteo turns Chelsea spoilers into flair-filled title challengers

As Italian welcomes United to the Bridge it will provide first major test for his rebuilt side

The leaves have only just started falling from the trees so in terms of the Premier League season it is a bit early for the mind games. But with the occasion of his first meeting as Chelsea manager with Sir Alex Ferguson tomorrow it was natural that someone should ask Roberto Di Matteo if he believed in all that business.

Click here to see our Chelsea Vs Manchester United: All you need to know graphic

"I think it didn't work last season, did it?" he said, with a smile. Was he talking about Ferguson and Roberto Mancini, manager of the club who were crowned champions? "Yeah," said Di Matteo. "You make more out of it than it is."

The guard does not go down too often with Di Matteo, who in the last few weeks has had to tiptoe through the John Terry saga, but when it does he is always illuminating. Not many managers over the last 19 years have had a team capable of beating Manchester United and Ferguson over the course of the season, but eight games in, Chelsea have indicated they certainly have the raw materials.

If they beat United at Stamford Bridge tomorrow, a home fixture Chelsea have not lost since 2002, then Di Matteo's side will be top of the league by a margin of seven points. Of course, Chelsea teams have finished ahead of United four times in the nine seasons since Roman Abramovich bought the club and they have won the title in three of those four seasons, but this time it is different.

Brian Clough once told Don Revie that he had wanted "to win it better" when the latter questioned how his own achievements at Leeds United could ever be surpassed. Win it better. That is the mission for Di Matteo now that the club has won everything of note, including the Champions League, in the Abramovich era. Win it better than Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti.

It was why yesterday Di Matteo was justifiably asked if this was the most adventurous Chelsea team of the Abramovich era. The combination of Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard has been a serious departure from the more robust, powerful approach embedded by Mourinho and eked out by Ancelotti and this season Chelsea have scored 19 goals, only two fewer than United, including four against Spurs last weekend.

United find themselves in a similar position: free-scoring in attack, they have conceded five more in the league than Chelsea and fallen behind eight times already this season, including in Tuesday's 3-2 win over Braga in the Champions League. On the same night, Chelsea were unable to come back against Shakhtar Donetsk and that defeat is the first major blemish on their season since the European Super Cup final. They have dropped just two points in the league.

Last season Chelsea were the Champions League's great spoilers, frustrating the most illustrious clubs in Europe, albeit it in thrilling style. They are a different team now. "You need to have the players and you have to adapt as a manager to the players you have at your disposal," Di Matteo said. "There is no point playing something your players are not comfortable with or don't have characteristics for.

"Last season it was right to go that way with the players we had. This season we believe this [new] style is right and gives us the best chance to win games. Of course we wanted to change a little bit from the way we played last season. Or over the years. Certainly, that was the idea."

But it would not be Chelsea if there was not a caveat to the good news. And that caveat, leaving aside the saga of Terry, banned tomorrow, is the Spanish centre-forward who occasionally looks close to tears of frustration. Fernando Torres goes into tomorrow's game after a limp performance in Donetsk and with a worse goals-to-games ratio than any of Ferguson's strikers.

The Chelsea manager did concede that he would drop Torres if he had to – "I've shown in the past in terms of rotation of the team, I have done that with everybody" – but otherwise he maintained his steadfast public support for the striker. This in the light of Torres' recent admission in an interview with El Pais that there were times last season when he was so low he did not care whether Chelsea won or not.

The honesty was admirable, the sentiment troubling. Di Matteo conceded that Tuesday had not been Torres' best game but dismissed any longstanding fears. "I have no concerns about Fernando. He always works hard for the team and whether he scores or not, he always contributes in assists. He is very useful for combinations.

"We can't just rely on one player, we want to share the responsibility between ourselves. He has been training well. I thought sometimes he gets more chances, sometimes not. He has been scoring goals and making goals. You can't expect him to be scoring every game.

"I think we need to move forward. We are talking too much about the past. He had a difficult season [last season], he's made that point. Rather than mulling over the past it's time to look forward and think about the present and future."

Unfortunately, Torres is the problem that Chelsea hoped for so long would solve itself. Increasingly it looks like it will not and at some point the club's thoughts will turn to what this side could achieve with a confident goalscoring centre-forward like, say, Radamel Falcao. In the meantime they go into tomorrow's game hoping rather than knowing that it will be the vintage Torres of 2007 to 2009 who shows up.

Frank Lampard is out for two weeks with a calf strain but that is nothing like the blow to Chelsea it once was and Marko Marin is back in the squad for tomorrow. For Di Matteo, the notion of a team that is cavalier at the back and thrilling in attack is still something that he resists.

"I disagree with you," he said when asked about the new Chelsea approach. "We base our game on being solid first of all and then try to attack and create chances to score goals. It is not a 'you score one, we'll score two' approach. We have been more disciplined and solid."

What of the suggestion that this is the best team to watch of the Abramovich era? He seemed to like that idea.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
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

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam