How Shane Long brought down Roman’s empire — and 5 other games that shaped di Matteo’s Chelsea reign

21 Nov

Published by TheScore.ie, 21 November 2012

AS CHELSEA MANAGER your days are inevitably, and literally, numbered but that won’t be much consolation to Roberto Di Matteo this morning.

Although that prized first Champions League title and a bonus FA Cup are safely ensconced in the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet, Roman Abramovich’s brief fling with di Matteo came to an abrupt halt today 262 days after it started.

Last night’s 3-0 defeat against Juventus left Chelsea on the brink of the dubious honour of becoming the first Champions League winners to hand back their European title in the group stages the next season.

Abramovich acted with characteristic speed, axing the Italian who barely outlasted his predecessor Andre Villas-Boas (256 days), Avram Grant (247) and Luiz Felipe Scolari (223) in what is unquestionably the most dangerous job in football.

These are the six games that defined di Matteo’s time in the dugout. Was it really all Shane Long’s fault he got the sack?

Chelsea 4-1 Napoli (Chelsea win 5-4 on aggregate)

Asked to deputise following an unmercifully swift end to the Andre Villas-Boas era, di Matteo got Chelsea back to winning ways in the Premier League with a 1-0 victory over Stoke in his first game, but it was the Italian’s European debut which set the tone for a remarkable finish to the season.

Chelsea were resigned to Champions League exit following a 3-1 first leg defeat in the last 16 against Napoli, but it was the old guard — the dressing room figures who had never warmed to AVB and his methods — who rose to the occasion on one of the club’s most famous nights.

Didier Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard all scored to force the game into extra time before Branislav Ivanovic got an unlikely winner to send the Blues through to the quarter-finals.

Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool

While that remarkable European run continued with wins against Benfica and holders Barcelona, di Matteo couldn’t stop Chelsea’s domestic slide. As the two Manchester giants battled it out for the title, the Blues took just 18 points from their final 11 games and slipped down to sixth.

Di Matteo got his hands on a first piece of managerial silverware in May. Goals from Ramires and the soon-to-depart Drogba gave Chelsea a 2-1 win against Liverpool in the FA Cup Final in Wembley.

Chelsea 1-1 Bayern Munich (Chelsea win on penalties)

Nine years and seven managers after Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea, di Matteo finally delivered the holy grail the Russian oligarch so desperately craved by beating Bayern Munich on penalties in the Champions League Final.

Thomas Mueller’s opener in the 83rd minute looked to have killed Chelsea’s chances of an upset but Didier Drogba equalised with two minutes of normal time remaining and then, fittingly on his final appearance in blue, scored the winning penalty in the shootout.

Di Matteo was lauded as the greatest caretaker manager of all time and not long afterwards, Abramovich rewarded him by giving him a two-year contract as manager number eight.

Chelsea 2-3 Manchester United

With summer signings Eden Hazard and Oscar adapting quickly to life in the Premier League, Chelsea started the new season with seven wins and a draw in their first eight games, sweeping to the top of the table.

That unbeaten run was snapped by Manchester United in a controversial 3-2 defeat which included a harsh red card for Fernando Torres, an offside winning goal for Javier Hernandez, and subsequent allegations that referee Mark Clattenburg had racially abused John Mikel Obi.

Chelsea’s winning aura was gone and the Blues slipped to third following consecutive 1-1 draws against Swansea and Liverpool.

West Bromwich Albion 2-1 Chelsea

Did Shane Long get di Matteo the sack? The Republic of Ireland striker was on top form at the Hawthorns last weekend, scoring one and creating the other for Peter Odemwingie as West Brom beat Chelsea 2-1.

Chelsea’s second defeat of the season left them just four points behind Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, but with Abramovich’s itchy finger in control, the result appears to have been the penultimate nail in di Matteo’s coffin.

Juventus 3-0 Chelsea

The writing was on the wall last night when an hour after their 3-0 defeat against Juventus in Turin, Roberto di Matteo still had not appeared for what would be his final post-match press conference.

Chelsea now need to beat Nordsjaelland in their final game and hope that Shakhtar Donetsk beat Juve if they are to avoid the ignominy of becoming the first Champions League winners to crash out in the group stages the following season.

That is someone else’s problem now.

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