Di Matteo: Confidence key for Chelsea
Roberto Di Matteo has warned Chelsea's top four rivals that his side's sky-high confidence could be the decisive factor in the race for UEFA Champions League qualification.
Di Matteo's team finished a memorable week that started with an epic Champions League semi-final triumph over Barcelona by demolishing west London rivals QPR 6-1 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
The Blues would qualify for next season's Champions League if they beat Bayern Munich at the German club's Allianz Arena on 19 May, but interim boss Di Matteo doesn't want to rely on that and is determined to keep his players focused on the top four battle in the Premier League.
Chelsea are one point behind both fourth-placed Tottenham and fifth-placed Newcastle, who visit the Bridge on Wednesday, and Di Matteo believes his players are in the mood to snatch the last guaranteed spot in Europe's elite club competition.
"It's great for the club that we have all these players full of confidence and everybody wants to play," Di Matteo said. "The whole team looks full of confidence and that is the only way we can be successful.
"After Champions League games the next Premier League match often proves difficult, so the team surprised me. I was hoping for a good performance but I wasn't expecting that. They really put in a great performance. It's great to see this team ethic and team spirit from all these guys."
Torres finally bounces back
No player sums up the dramatic improvement in Chelsea's fortunes under Di Matteo more than Fernando Torres, who followed up his crucial late goal in Barcelona with a hat-trick against QPR.
It was the kind of lethal display which persuaded Blues owner Roman Abramovich to pay a British record £50 million to sign him 15 months ago and the Russian delightedly exchanged high fives with his friends in the stands after Torres completed his first treble since September 2009.
"I was always pleased with his contribution," Di Matteo said. "In the past he was always working hard for the team and providing assists so I had no problem with his contribution. But I'm pleased for him that he scored a hat-trick. It's great for his confidence."
Now Di Matteo must choose between the resurgent Torres and Didier Drogba, who was rested against QPR, when Newcastle come to west London in midweek.
Although the FA Cup final against Liverpool is looming on Saturday, Di Matteo plans to field a strong team. "We have to try to win the next game as well to have a chance to finish fourth," he said.
"I need to assess my players in the next couple of days to see how they have recovered and pick a strong team on Wednesday. Today we had (Gary) Cahill, (David) Luiz and (John Obi) Mikel out, but Branislav Ivanovic will be available after suspension."
After taking over a club in crisis following Andre Villas-Boas's dismissal, Di Matteo has delivered a remarkably assured performance in the managerial hot seat. He has lost just one of his 16 matches and reached two cup finals, yet it is still uncertain whether he will be offered the job on a permanent basis.
The Italian also admitted he had little say over the club's signing of Werder Bremen midfielder Marko Marin this week. "I tend to give my recommendation but, ultimately, the club decides who they want to sign," he added.
QPR face moment of truth
While Chelsea have plenty to look forward to, QPR face a nervous finale as they try to avoid an immediate return to the Championship. Mark Hughes' side are above the relegation zone only on goal difference and must beat Stoke at home next weekend before a daunting final game of the season at Manchester City.
"At times we were a little bit naive. We need a radical rethink in the way we approach away games," Hughes said.
"It is difficult to say how this affects the relegation battle. We have damaged our goal difference, but hopefully results will go for us. We have got a huge game against Stoke and we need to get maximum points."