Business as usual for Di Matteo
Roberto Di Matteo shrugged off the implications of Roman Abramovich's latest visit to Chelsea's training ground, insisting he was more than happy to see the Russian there. Blues boss Di Matteo confirmed Abramovich was at the club's Cobham headquarters on Thursday amid reports he had questioned players and coaching staff following Wednesday night's 2-2 Champions League draw with Juventus.
Di Matteo admitted "it wasn't a particularly happy camp here" after what was the European champions' third successive game without a win and third this season in which their deficiencies have been ruthlessly exposed by big-name opponents. Visits from an unhappy Abramovich have proven a bad omen for Chelsea managers since the Russian bought the club and Di Matteo could be forgiven for being alarmed at receiving one just seven matches into his reign as full-time manager. But he insisted his only concern was the Barclays Premier League game at Stoke and that dealing with Abramovich was par for the course.
"He actually comes quite often, to be honest," Di Matteo said. "He likes to be involved and he comes down whenever he can. "He's the owner and he likes to know what's going on and he likes to speak to people - and he does that all the time. "Obviously, we weren't happy about the result we got on Wednesday night, for sure, so it wasn't a particularly happy camp yesterday here. "But we'll have try to pick ourselves up and go again and try to win points in the Premier League now. "I have to focus on my job and try to prepare the players and the team to the best for Saturday's game."
After being allowed to rescue Chelsea's season in any way he saw fit last term, Di Matteo is now starting to encounter some of the problems that ultimately cost his predecessors. One of those is a misfiring Fernando Torres, whose mini-revival is in danger of petering out at just the wrong time. Daniel Sturridge has now been sidelined by a hamstring injury, leaving Di Matteo to sweat on the form and - more importantly - fitness of his only recognised centre-forward. "I try not to worry about that," he said. "Injuries can happen to any players in the games, so I have ideas if anything happens. "But we go into the game not thinking about injuries."
Chelsea expect Oscar to be fit for the game against Stoke. Oscar's sensational full debut was marred by an ankle injury after he was trodden on by Leonardo Bonucci during the Champions League clash. Meanwhile, Stoke boss Tony Pulis feels his team are contending with their toughest ever start to a Premier League campaign.
The Potters held league champions Manchester City to a 1-1 draw at the Britannia Stadium last Saturday and now take on the current league leaders and European champions. Their other three league matches have seen them secure draws against Reading, Arsenal and Wigan and after facing Chelsea they host Swansea before travelling to Liverpool and Manchester United.
"We knew it was a tough start when we looked at it, it is probably the toughest start we have had in a Premier League season," said Pulis, who led Stoke into the top flight in 2008. "We recognise that, understand it and get on with it, and I have been really pleased so far. "I think the lads' application and approach to the games has been first class and we'll have to be the same again on Saturday." Stoke are yet to earn a point in four trips to Stamford Bridge but Pulis is optimistic the duck could be broken.
"It would be lovely to get something from Stamford Bridge and we have come close a few times, but we have also had our backside slapped a few times as well," he said. "If we go there, work hard and give it a crack and things go our way, you never know."
There will have to be at least one alteration however, with Andy Wilkinson starting a three-match ban after Stoke accepted the violent conduct charge brought against the defender by the Football Association after he caught Mario Balotelli in the face with an elbow. Midfielder Jamie Ness could return having been back in training after his groin injury.