x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Roberto Di Matteo's stock is rising by the game at Chelsea

With the team putting in improved performances and major candidates for the permanent role all problematic, Di Matteo could be playing himself into a job at Stamford Bridge.

Di Matteo has led Chelsea into the FA Cup semi-finals and Champions League quarter-finals in his short time in charge. Tim Hales / AP Photo
Di Matteo has led Chelsea into the FA Cup semi-finals and Champions League quarter-finals in his short time in charge. Tim Hales / AP Photo

His record remains perfect; as good as Jose Mourinho's initiation as Chelsea manager. His four victories from four matches include one of the unlikeliest of Champions League resurrections. Until Chelsea 4 Napoli 1, after extra time, only a single club had managed to turnaround a 3-1 first-leg deficit.

Could Roberto Di Matteo convert a caretaker's appointment, made against a hailstone of reports that Chelsea's truculent playing staff liked him less than his dismissed predecessor, into a long-term gig? His chances are rising by each fixture.

Roman Abramovich eventually finds fault with everyone he employs to win football matches, yet this is not the time for him to be picky.

Di Matteo's mandate upon succeeding he self-destructively headstrong Andre Villas-Boas was to secure fourth place in the Premier League with everything else a bonus.

That he has already sustained their interest in this year's Champions League and navigated two rounds of the FA Cup has been well received in the shadowed nook of Stamford Bridge the Russian likes to frequent.

Keeping the owner happy is a start, though as one senior figure wearily accustomed to Abramovich's ways notes, "five minutes is enough to change everything with him". The other factor working in Di Matteo's favour are the names on the billionaire's wish list.

Pep Guardiola intends to manage in English football one day. Yet if he takes the difficult decision to step away from the intensity of Barcelona this summer he is expected to hide himself away on sabbatical, not march into the madhouse of Chelsea.

Mourinho, intriguingly, is tempted by the idea of a hero's return to be capped with yet another Champions League triumph.

He, though, will demand absolute control of football matters - something Abramovich has never allowed anyone.

So opens the window for Di Matteo. Well liked by Chelsea's supporters for his successes there as a player, he has taken a pragmatic approach to crisis managing.

Players widely perceived as complicit in the downfall of Villas-Boas have been unified behind the idea that they work together or may no longer be working at Chelsea at all.

A trusted assistant, Eddie Newton, has been brought in to add a noisy vitality to the coaching staff that was absent before.

Di Matteo's choice of line-ups has been non-partisan and well matched to the opposition. Within games, he has made intelligent decisions with important consequences.

When Stoke City went down to 10 men at Stamford Bridge the week before last, Di Matteo waited 10 minutes to reassess the shape of the game then switched Raul Meireles for Juan Mata.

Seeing a weariness in Branislav Ivanovic, he irked the defender with a half-time substitution then watched him defeat Napoli with an extra-time winner four days later.

It is the little details that make a difference at the game's highest level. And at Chelsea those details are lining up in Di Matteo's favour.

sports@thenational.ae