Football Football

Life after AVB starts with FA Cup win


BIRMINGHAM, England, February 7 – Chelsea caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo said a top-four Premier League finish was his priority after ducking questions about a long-term managerial role at Stamford Bridge.

Di Matteo steered the London club to the FA Cup quarter-finals after his first match in charge following Andre Villas-Boas’s sacking ended in a 2-0 win away to Birmingham City at St Andrew’s here on Tuesday.

Former Chelsea and Italy midfielder di Matteo has been put in charge by Blues owner Roman Abramovich until the end of the season following the dismissal of Villas-Boas on Sunday.

But Di Matteo declined to reveal whether he wanted the job beyond then.

“I’m very tired tonight and I have to think about our game against Stoke City on Saturday,” said Di Matteo when asked if he wanted to stay on as Chelsea manager beyond the end of the season. “That’s all I’m concerned about.”

Chelsea’s travelling fans made it clear whom they wanted to succeed Villas-Boas on a permanent basis when they chanted the name of former manager Jose Mourinho during the fifth round replay.

“Jose is part of the history of this club. He’s achieved so much success,” added di Matteo.

Chelsea, who meet another second-tier side in Leicester in the quarter-finals, are just two games away from the FA Cup final but they must overturn a 3-1 first leg deficit against Italian side Napoli to remain in the Champions League next week.

They are also in danger of missing out on qualifying for next season’s Champions League. Chelsea are fifth in the Premier League — three points behind fourth-placed Arsenal — with 11 games remaining.

“We don’t like where we are in the table and it’s going to be tough to achieve what we are trying to achieve,” said Di Matteo, whose team are currently adrift of the four Champions League places on offer to English clubs.

“For us, it’s vital to finish fourth in the table. That’s the target. If we can win a cup or two on the way then that’s a benefit.”

Midfielder Frank Lampard and striker Didier Drogba started Villas-Boas’s final game in charge at West Brom last Saturday.

But the senior players were both on the bench against Birmingham.

“They are big players for this club and we have a squad and we have to utilise the squad,” added di Matteo. “We play on Saturday. It was just a question of freshening the team up.”

Chelsea skipper John Terry, who has been out since January with a knee injury, was a surprise inclusion on the bench.

“John has done well to recover so quickly,” said di Matteo of the England central defender. “We’re pleased to see him. He is available but we have to take it in small steps.”

Reflecting on the latest managerial upheaval to befall Chelsea, di Matteo — who was Portuguese boss Villas-Boas’s assistant at Stamford Bridge — added: “We’ve lost a great guy so you have to deal with it. We have to move on as a club and move forward.”

And di Matteo denied reports of player unrest, insisting the squad were united: “We are a happy family. Tonight everybody is happy.”

Two goals in six second-half minutes by Juan Mata and Raul Meireles proved enough to overcome Championship side Birmingham, while Mata could even afford to miss a subsequent penalty.

Birmingham manager Chris Hughton said: “You have to give Chelsea credit because it’s been a tough time for them.

“It’s no shame to be going out to a team of Chelsea’s quality.”