We must reign in Ukraine! Di Matteo upbeat as Chelsea plot Shakhtar's downfall
22:35 GMT, 22 October 2012
The wonderful Donbass Arena glows in the night like a flying saucer which has chosen to rest amid the distant coalfields and steelworks of eastern Ukraine.
Even if the doors were to slide open and other worldly occupants were to disembark, the chances are they would be wholly aware of the John Terry race storm.
The case has been rumbling for a year and Roberto Di Matteo has not known life as Chelsea manager without its suffocating presence.
Main man: Roberto Di Matteo runs the rule over his Chelsea side ahead of their clash in Ukraine
Repercussions still eat away at English football, as the Kick It Out T-shirt debate proves, and hearts must have skipped beats within the camp when they heard someone called Fernandinho was playing in Donetsk. As it turned out, it was the Brazilian midfielder rather than a long-lost cousin of Rio or Anton.
‘I’ve had a good baptism, I have to say,’ said Di Matteo, when asked about the pressure he has faced. ‘From the day I took over last season. You just deal with the pressure. You get into a rhythm.
‘We don’t get time to enjoy anything, you know. After the win at Tottenham on Saturday, by 10 o’clock in the evening, you’re thinking already about Shakhtar.
‘And by 7-7.30 on Sunday morning, you’re back in the office. That’s maybe the only downfall.
‘You can’t even take in victories like that and the performance. You’re switching straight on to the next game. I’m sleeping very well though.’
Captain: John Terry will lead Chelsea against Shakhtar on Tuesday
Di Matteo should sleep very soundly indeed. Chelsea were out of the Carling Cup and well adrift in the Barclays Premier League when he took full control from Andre Villas-Boas. They were 3-1 down to Napoli after the first leg of a Champions League tie and facing an awkward FA Cup replay at Birmingham.
Yet, with the Champions League and the FA Cup secured, his team are perched four points clear at the top of the League after the best start to a season by any Chelsea manager since Jose Mourinho. Carry on like this and people may even forget Pep Guardiola is out of work. First, though, he must survive autumn without what has become a seasonal slump in Chelsea form.
‘I’ve looked at the past seasons,’ said Di Matteo. ‘That’s why I talk about waiting until Christmas to see where we stand. We have done everything in our power and planning that we think will help us to get through this period.’
As an attacking force, Chelsea were impressive at Tottenham but this is a different test in Donetsk, where no English team has won.
Pressure: Di Matteo has called on Chelsea to see off the threat of their hosts
Shakhtar have beaten Arsenal twice, Spurs once and drawn with Fulham, and the domestic form of the Ukrainian champions is quite spectacular.
A 2-1 victory against Illychivets Mariupil on Friday was their 21st successive win in the Ukrainian Premier League, a record, and Armenian striker Henrik Mkhitaryan has scored 14 in 12 league games this season.
Shakhtar are 12 points clear at the top of the league and, of 16 games in all competitions this season, have won 15. The other, a creditable draw against Juventus, in Turin.
‘Yeah, yeah, I know the stats,’ said Di Matteo. ‘And they were unlucky not to win against Juventus. They were the better team.’
One concern for Chelsea is the strength of Group E, with only Danish minnows Nordsjaelland yet to collect a point. Last season, in a group where Villarreal lost all six group games, Manchester City failed to qualify with 10 points.
Danger man: Willian
Unlike City, however, Chelsea are
hardy European travellers, although they have lost some of their most
grizzled Champions League veterans from the squad this summer.
‘Nordsjaelland are the weakest team in the group and the other three clubs look like we have the same amount of chances to qualify,’ said Di Matteo. ‘You will probably need more than the 10 points that normally qualifies you.’
Terry, who is serving a four-match ban in domestic football, and Frank Lampard are among those who may return but Marko Marin has a groin injury and has not travelled.
‘He should be training with us when we get back,’ said the manager. ‘He’s been hampered by injuries and is catching up with fitness levels and that has limited his opportunities and progress.’
Marin’s only action since his 7million move from Werder Bremen has been 20 minutes as a substitute in the Capital One Cup against Wolves.
It is the sternest test yet in the defence of the trophy but Di Matteo promised no sudden return to the bus-parking, defensive tactics which were the hallmark of last season’s triumph in Munich.
‘We’re on a path and we know what we want,’ said Di Matteo. ‘We still need to evolve and improve but that’s our platform. We have to become better all the time.’