Di Matteo: We have answered our critics
Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo claimed the senior figures within his squad answered their critics in Wednesday's 1-0 UEFA Champions League semi-final first-leg encounter with Barcelona at Stamford Bridge.
Didier Drogba, preferred in attack to Fernando Torres, scored the only goal just before the break that puts the Blues in pole position to reach the final at Munich's Allianz Arena next month.
Coming just three days after they hammered Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final, it was another superb performance from Di Matteo's side, which the Italian feels answered those who claimed his squad was too old.
"In the past, a lot of people have had the opinion that our boys were over the line and too old to play at this level," he said. "It was not just Didier, but a lot of players in our squad, that they said couldn't play two games in such a short period of time. They gave their answer on the pitch tonight."
Di Matteo also singled out Gary Cahill for special praise after the transfer window arrival from Bolton responded to the opportunity created by David Luiz's hamstring injury in magnificent fashion, helping to keep a much-hyped Barcelona attack at bay.
"It was a bit of a baptism for Gary," he said. "He has not played much in the Champions League and it was a difficult game. But I am very pleased that he played so well, as did the whole back four."
Chelsea were forced to survive a few scares but Di Matteo said that was only to be expected under the circumstances. "Sometimes it feels like they have 20 players," he said.
"We watched Barcelona against AC Milan and Real Madrid, top European clubs, and they did exactly the same to them. They have a unique style of play, with quality players. They are the only team in the world who can do that."
Di Matteo refused to celebrate too much though, knowing the outcome of the tie will not be settled until next Tuesday's return encounter at the Nou Camp. "The semi-final on Sunday was going to be our biggest test, then tonight, now next week," he said. "We are facing a lot of tests at the moment.
"I am very pleased with this result but it is only half-time. Nothing has been decided yet and we need to play another game like this one if we are going to get through."
Barcelona are attempting to become the first side in the Champions League era to retain the trophy. However, after watching his side failed to find the net despite having an astonishing 24 attempts on goal, coach Pep Guardiola conceded Chelsea are now favourites to reach the final in Munich on 19 May. "One-nil is a very good result for them," said Guardiola. "They are the favourites."
He also refused to condemn the hosts for spending so much of the game on the back foot. "It's football," he said. "It's not a question about fair or unfair.
"Congratulations to Chelsea. We'd win every game if it all was about possession of the ball because our average is more than our opponents. But the most difficult thing in this game is putting the ball in the net, and that's what we couldn't do this evening. We have to focus on the next game now and try and create the same number of chances.
"It won't be simple. They'll have 10 men behind the ball, they'll defend, they're stronger than us, they run, they jump more than us. But we have to try and take the game under control and discover a way of scoring the goals."
Barcelona's problem is that they have an energy-sapping La Liga confrontation with Real Madrid on Saturday evening as they bid to hold on to the domestic crown they have worn for three seasons. "Only winners are remembered," Guardiola said.
"But my feeling is that being here is already a success. This year has been quite tough. We've had some set-backs, but we've confronted them with great dignity and support. We'll see if we're able to claim a trophy, but we already have achieved a lot."