Dressing-room row cranks up heat on Chelsea
Chelsea travel to Turin today for a crucial Champions League tie with their season in the balance after a 2-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday prompted a furious dressing-room inquest.
Roberto di Matteo will lead his squad to Italy for tomorrow night's game against Juventus considering wholesale changes, including dropping Fernando Torres, as Chelsea seek the draw that will keep their defence of the Champions League alive.
Defeat at the Hawthorns extended Chelsea's winless league streak to four matches, with just two points from 12 since the fateful home defeat to Manchester United that ended in accusations of racial abuse against referee Mark Clattenburg.
It is a run of results that will trouble the club's hierarchy and pressure on the manager will intensify if they do not return from Turin with at least a point. Six days later they host Manchester City, and another defeat would increase tension.
With the FA to decide this week whether to charge Clattenburg or clear him, there is a growing sense the next six days could set the tone for Chelsea's season and define Di Matteo's future.
The squad will travel after an angry dressing-room dissection of Saturday's defeat still ringing in their ears. Di Matteo was not the only one left fuming by a performance from a team featuring a number of second-string players that leaves Chelsea eight points off leaders City.
The exchanges were audible in the home dressing-room and the tunnel, with Petr Cech among those challenging his team-mates in industrial terms over the defensive errors and striking failings that cost them the game.
At the height of the exchanges one player was heard to exclaim "that's f****** rubbish and you know it".
David Luiz, an increasingly influential dressing-room presence, confirmed that voices had been raised in defeat, but said it was "normal" for a team of Chelsea's ambition.
"Of course, it is normal. This is a big club and in a big club you cannot lose games."
Chief executive Ron Gourlay and technical director Michael Emanalo, a key Roman Abramovich ally, were both in the vicinity of the changing room.
Di Matteo (below) has had to live with speculation about his future since succeeding Andre Villas-Boas eight months ago and, despite leading the club to the Champions League title, it has intensified this season with Pep Guardiola taking a high-profile sabbatical from the game.
Failure in Turin will increase scrutiny from within Stamford Bridge, particularly if Di Matteo concedes that the more expansive style that has won admirers is not delivering results. Unlike Villas-Boas, who survived until March last season, Di Matteo inherited the role and then made himself unsackable, in the short-term at least.
The Chelsea coach concedes he faces a major challenge in Turin: "Absolutely it is a challenging time when you don't win games. You need to instil confidence in players, and that is a tough job."
Saturday's defeat took Chelsea's goals conceded to 18 in the eight games since their last clean sheet, away to FC Nordsjaelland, and left Di Matteo openly considering a more conservative style as well as new personnel in pursuit of a victory.
The manager has stuck to a more progressive system than that which delivered the Champions League, but said he will change the balance to tackle the defensive frailties that let his team down again at West Brom.
As well as greater defensive control, Di Matteo said he would consider dropping Torres, who endured another dismal afternoon at the Hawthorns, if it was in the team's best interests.
Asked directly if he would drop the £50m signing, Di Matteo said: "We will have to assess the whole team and see how everybody is, and how they have recovered. A lot of players have only come back (from international duty) yesterday or maybe Thursday afternoon from everywhere, from Europe and the rest of the world. We will assess them and see what the right selection is for Tuesday.
"(But) if I believe it is the right thing to do for the team, then yeah. I think as a team we have to be better defending – you don't defend with one player, you defend with the whole team, like you want your whole team helping when you are attacking as well.
"It is a defensive organisation on the pitch that we need to look at and maybe I have to do some changes."
A more defensive approach is logical given that a draw in Turin will leave Chelsea favourites to progress to the knockout stage.
"Of course every game is massive and important, the club that we are we are looking to be always competing at the top and every defeat is a problem for us.
"But certainly Tuesday is going to be a massive game." (© Daily Telegraph, London)