Tuesday 24 October 2017

Di Matteo: Alex Ferguson’s ‘mind games’ are ‘overrated’

Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo
Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo

Ben Rumsby

ROBERTO Di Matteo was today ready to combat Alex Ferguson's mind games with his own brand of covert psychology as he prepared for their first clash since he became Chelsea boss.

Blues manager Di Matteo played down the significance of the public jousting with rival bosses for which Ferguson has become notorious during his near 26 years at Manchester United.

But he revealed he would resort to fighting fire with fire if necessary as he prepared to pit his wits against the man he admitted was still the best in the business in Sunday's mouthwatering Premier League clash between the sides.

"If I need to, I will, but there is no need and sometimes it doesn't have to be publicly," said Di Matteo, who Blues winger Juan Mata revealed this week had proven a master of getting inside his own players' heads.

Ferguson has a reputation for getting inside the head of United's title rivals but Di Matteo was quick to point out the effect the Scot's mind games had on champions Manchester City.

"They didn't work last season, I think," he added.

"You make it out a little bit more than it is at the end of the day.

"As a manager, you have to prepare your team as good as you can and then the players have to go on the pitch and perform."

Nobody has done that better than Ferguson in the last quarter of a century.

Di Matteo, who revealed the Scot had not made contact with him since he landed the Chelsea job, said: "He's at the top. He's a very successful manager and experienced manager.

"He's won many trophies.

"I think he's been fortunate as well to be able to work at a club where he's been able to be there such a long time.

"It doesn't happen these days too often."

It certainly does not happen at Chelsea, who are on their eighth manager in eight years under ruthless owner Roman Abramovich.

Asked if he would like to remain in charge at Stamford Bridge for a similar length of time, Di Matteo said with a wry smile: "That would be nice, yeah.

"If you win all the games, there's a good chance..."

That poses the question whether even Ferguson would have survived at Chelsea last season had he won nothing, as he did at United.

"Every club is different and every situation is different," Di Matteo added.

"You cannot compare."

The Italian has already managed to outwit managerial greats such as Pep Guardiola, Jupp Heynckes and Arsene Wenger in his short time at Chelsea but Ferguson is arguably the biggest scalp of all.

But Di Matteo said: "I won't focus too much on that. I'll focus on my team and what we have to do to try to beat Man United and the way we have to approach the game tactically."

Di Matteo, who has masterminded Chelsea's four-point lead at the top of the Premier League over second-placed United, echoed calls from his players for them to tighten up in the wake of their first major setback of the season at Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday.

"Starting the game well is probably very important - both halves, not just the first half," he said.

"And also probably being disciplined with the organisation and not losing that, even if you do concede an early goal.

"Certainly, after defeat, it's not the best in our dressing room, but we have a great game coming up on Sunday and I think we can show and prove to everybody that we are a strong team."

United have been even more suspect at the back this season, leading many to predict a goal-fest on Sunday.

"They are conceding a few goals and we have a big threat as well with our players, so we will try to exploit those weaknesses," said Di Matteo, who admitted Robin van Persie - who scored a hat-trick for Arsenal at Stamford Bridge last season - had made United more of a threat.

"He's scored some vital goals already.

"They're a strong team and they were at the top last season and have added to it.

"You wouldn't expect them to be anywhere else."

Both sides will be missing key players, with Chelsea without suspended captain John Terry and injured vice-captain Frank Lampard, who Di Matteo admitted was a "big loss".

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