Posted on Mar 26
Chelsea coach Roberto Di Matteo insisted his side were still capable of competing at the highest level on Monday after Frank Lampard suggested the Premier League outfit were a fading force.
In a blunt appraisal of Chelsea's problems on the eve of their Champions League quarter-final first leg with Benfica here Tuesday, Lampard said the club were no longer as potent as they used to be.
Chelsea are currently struggling to qualify for next season's Champions League and were fortunate to earn a 0-0 draw at home to Tottenham last weekend.
"The fixtures and where we are in the table doesn't lie -- we're not as good as we used to be," Lampard told Chelsea TV in a surprisingly candid assessment.
"We used to have a fortress here and, for whatever reason, we're just not doing it. It's something we must all put right."
However Di Matteo, who took over as interim coach following the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas earlier this month, was anxious to accentuate the positives when asked to respond to Lampard's comments here Monday.
"We've had a difficult season," Di Matteo told reporters ahead of Chelsea's training session at the Stadium of Light.
"The numbers say that so there is no point in denying it. It's been difficult. But I think we have a number of very good players and I still think this Chelsea team is still a very good team.
"I don't think we are a weak team, not at all. We still have to play two games to play in the quarter-finals. We're pleased to be here to be playing these two games against Benfica."
When pressed further about Lampard's remarks, Di Matteo pointed to Chelsea's progress in both the Champions League and FA Cup, where they have reached the last four, despite a "difficult" season.
"We are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. As I said, the season has proven very difficult for us, there's no doubt about that," he said.
"Chelsea is used to being in the top two or three. We're a little bit behind in the league but on the other hand we're in the semi-finals of a domestic cup and in a quarter-final of the Champions League.
"I have a lot of faith in these players and they've shown in the last few weeks that they can play with a high intensity and at a high level against any team and I'm looking forward to seeing them do that tomorrow night.
"I'm positive with the team and the players are positive too. We have great belief in our abilities and that's what we will try to express tomorrow.
Di Matteo was also dismissive of suggestions that Chelsea are finding goals hard to come by with Fernando Torres misfiring and the 34-year-old Didier Drogba showing signs of fatigue.
"My response is that we've scored 13 goals in the last six games and we've had three clean sheets," Di Matteo said. "We're in good shape. As long as somebody in my team scores I really don't care who scores.
"It's been proven in the last few games that different people are capable of scoring."
Di Matteo would not be drawn on the extensive restructuring of Chelsea's squad likely to be implemented this summer, when several members of an ageing squad are expected to be shown the door.
"It's not the time to be talking about the evolution or revolution or however you want to call it," Di Matteo said.
"Now is the time for us to channel our energy into the games that we have to play. When the time is right in the summer, the people at the club will make the decisions which are the best for the club."