Roberto Di Matteo is confident his squad will not hold back in tonight’s crucial Barclays Premier League game against Newcastle, regardless of the match taking place less than three days before their FA Cup final meeting with Liverpool at Wembley.
The Stamford Bridge clash against the Magpies is arguably more important than Saturday’s showpiece, with Di Matteo’s top priority ensuring Chelsea qualify for next season’s Champions League.
And while the Italian has not resorted to banning any mention of the final ahead of tonight’s game, he left no doubt where his focus lay.
“We’ve not talked about it at all,” he said of the Liverpool game. “We’ll see how the game goes tomorrow and then I’ll be thinking about Saturday.”
It would only be human for players to subconsciously hold back tonight for fear of injuring themselves, but Di Matteo said: “We cannot allow ourselves to think like that. We know how important the game is for our club and the players who are going to be playing will be fully committed.”
Defenders David Luiz and Gary Cahill will miss the match, both with hamstring injuries, but both were seen running yesterday at Chelsea’s training ground.
Di Matteo said they will be reassessed again today and Friday and while it looks unlikely Cahill in particular will be fit for the weekend, Di Matteo is optimistic of both being back before the Champions League final.
Winning the glamour clash with Bayern Munich would, of course, make the outcome of tonight’s match redundant for Chelsea. And Di Matteo would have no qualms knocking the Magpies or Tottenham out of the Champions League were one of them to finish fourth in the Premier League.
“For us, it’s important that we try to win it [the final], and whatever the consequences are for somebody else doesn’t really bother us,” he said.
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has admitted his players might have had one eye on the Champions League as their chances of qualifying were dealt a major blow as a result of their 4-0 drubbing at Wigan on Saturday.
With three games left to play, Pardew’s men could yet finish anywhere between third and sixth in the Premier League, and that means the prospect of Champions League football returning to St James’ Park remains alive, if less likely than it was on Saturday morning.
In that respect, tonight’s game could be regarded as a dress rehearsal for the type of fixture that might lie ahead.
Pardew said: “Absolutely, and that’s how we should approach it. Our players, perhaps you could argue, might have had one eye on it, I don’t know.
“But we certainly didn’t turn up in the first half at Wigan. There’s no expectation on us, but there is pride because we hurt our pride on Saturday and we are all hurting a little bit.”
“The last three games [Chelsea away, Man City home and Everton away] are going to be about our season in terms of making sure we finish strongly.
“I am not bothered if we lose all three, if I am honest, but the performances have to be right because we are playing three good teams and two away games in there.
“We want to give our fans an end to the season that makes them proud, because we have done absolutely brilliantly.”
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