Roberto Di Matteo has warned his Chelsea players that they are marked men as the Champions League holders prepare to start their bid to retain the trophy against Juventus today.
The Blues are back in action in Europe’s elite club competition four months after their dramatic penalty shoot-out triumph over Bayern Munich in the German club’s Allianz Arena capped a fairy tale run under then caretaker boss Di Matteo.
When Di Matteo took charge following Andre Villas-Boas' sacking, it seemed inconceivable that the Italian would finish the season by leading Chelsea to their first Champions League title.
At that point Chelsea trailed 3-1 to Napoli after the first leg of their last 16 tie, but within weeks Di Matteo had inspired a remarkable renaissance that saw the west London club edge past Napoli, Benfica and Barcelona before stunning Bayern in the final.
That was enough to convince Blues owner Roman Abramovich to hand Di Matteo the manager's job on a permanent basis, but the Italian knows it will take a herculean effort to defend the trophy.
No club has won the tournament in back to back years in the Champions League era and, as reigning champions, Di Matteo expects Chelsea to face the very best performances from opponents desperate to claim a big scalp, starting with Italian champions Juventus at Stamford Bridge.
“Every opposition is going to play with extra motivation playing against the holders of the Champions League. So it makes our lives more difficult,” Di Matteo said. “I’m aware no team has defended the trophy and I’m not surprised because it’s such a difficult competition to win.
“To win it twice in a row has proven impossible so far, because it’s so competitive.”
Chelsea’s hopes of retaining the Champions League would be greatly improved if Fernando Torres hit the kind of hot streak that Didier Drogba enjoyed towards the end of last season.
Drogba was magnificent during Chelsea’s European run, which reached a glorious conclusion with the Ivory Coast striker almost single-handedly dragging his team to the trophy with a late equaliser in the final and then the winner in the penalty shoot-out.
Did you know?
No club has won the Champions League twice in a row