Chelsea’s return to form since the sacking of Portuguese Andre Villas-Boas is down to the players rediscovering their passion for the game, interim manager Roberto Di Matteo said on Friday.
The Italian has overseen three consecutive wins since Villas-Boas was axed, culminating in the enthralling 5-4 aggregate victory over Napoli on Wednesday that earned the Londoners a Champions League quarter-final against Benfica.
The games are coming thick and fast for Chelsea with second tier Leicester City visiting Stamford Bridge on Sunday in the last eight of the FA Cup and then a trip to Manchester City on Wednesday in the Premier League.
There was little optimism a few weeks ago but Chelsea are now suddenly buoyant and Di Matteo is being tipped by former manager Ruud Gullit for the permanent position.
“I’ve been speaking to the players individually ... to try and get them feeling the responsibility and make them aware of our targets, to bring a little bit of team spirit back, the spirit of sacrifice and passion for the game,” Di Matteo told a news conference.
“I am looking to the future and we just have to get results. That’s what we are focusing on.”
Skipper John Terry and fellow central defender David Luiz should shrug off knocks in time for Sunday as Chelsea put all thoughts of Champions League glamour to one side.
“I think they will both be available,” said former Italy midfielder Di Matteo who scored inside the first minute in Chelsea’s 1997 FA Cup final victory over Middlesbrough.
KNOCKS AND BRUISES
“There are a few knocks and bruises, it was very intense and physical (against Napoli), but we expect everybody to be ready. We have everybody fit and we will need everybody.
“It’s difficult to leave certain players out for some games but we have such an intense schedule that it’s great to be in this position,” added Di Matteo.
“We obviously have to take into consideration that we played extra-time on Wednesday and will try and put out the strongest team available to win the game.
“I don’t know yet what the team will be. I have to check tomorrow how people have recovered from the Napoli game,” said Di Matteo.
Six-times FA Cup winners Chelsea struggled past second tier Birmingham City in the previous round and Di Matteo is expecting Leicester to be equally tough.
“With Birmingham we had a replay and we have to be aware we have to perform again at a very high level to go through,” he said.
“This club has a great history in the competition and I remember we played Leicester when I was playing. We needed a replay then and it was very difficult.”