Rejuvenated Blues can see off 'best team in the world' -- Lampard
Roberto Di Matteo's Chelsea roll forward to their next great challenge tomorrow night. Since taking charge, their caretaker manager Di Matteo has summoned more out of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard than Andre Villas-Boas ever could. Sunday's FA Cup semi-final defeat of Tottenham was thrilling, but Barcelona tomorrow night will be a very different challenge.
The fact Chelsea are still competing for the Champions League, though, as well as reaching an FA Cup final, and fighting to finish fourth, is testament to the stability and the improvement Di Matteo has induced in his tenure.
"He's done brilliant," Lampard said. "You can see the desire and love he has for the club and the fans relate to that. He's done the simple things right, he's got individuals playing well, with confidence. The basics of management for me is man-management and he's done that brilliant."
Didier Drogba agreed: "I think the most important thing is the communication," he said of Di Matteo, "and it's easier when you win games. The spirit is better when you win games."
Lampard and Drogba are both veterans of the Jose Mourinho era who Villas-Boas did not see as representing Chelsea's future.
Of all the great things the pair have achieved over the years, overcoming Barcelona would be the peak. It will be their fourth Champions League semi-final together (Lampard also played in one before Drogba arrived), but by far their hardest. But two-legged football is not a pure merit test, and Drogba knows Chelsea have a chance. "It's a 50-50, even if they are said to be the best team in the world," he said. "There are two games. Anything can happen."
The underdog role is not one with which Chelsea are familiar but it may well work in their favour. They must win at Stamford Bridge tomorrow night, and hope German referee Felix Brych allows them to exploit their physical advantage at set-pieces. But if they can take a lead to Spain, and sit on it, they might just find crucial game-winning goals on the break.
"I don't mind if people write us off against Barcelona," Lampard said. "We're in the semi-final on merit. I understand what people are saying. Everyone has this feeling with Barcelona that they're going to roll over everyone. When they're at their best they can do that. We have to take them on and play the way we did in the FA Cup."
"Barcelona won't underestimate us," he said. "They've proved themselves as a team and as players. We'll concentrate on ourselves. If we play the way we did against Spurs, with the focus and determination plus the ability we have to believe we have a chance." (© Independent News Service)