• Manager admits defeat would make top-four finish difficult
• Tottenham have not won at Stamford Bridge since 1990
Roberto Di Matteo is confident that Chelsea can maintain their hold over Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge, although he accepts that failure to do so would realistically end the club's hopes of a Champions League finish.
Chelsea have not lost at home to their London rivals since 1990 while Di Matteo has fond memories from his Stamford Bridge playing days of derbies against them. His record was: P5 W4 D1, and he scored three goals, including a 30-yard screamer in the 6-1 away win in 1997-98. "It was with my left foot," he said, with a smile. "I didn't score many with that."
Di Matteo must lift his players after slipping to defeat for the first time in his five matches as the caretaker manager. The 2-1 loss at Manchester City on Wednesday cast them five-points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham with nine games to play. The caretaker manager's minimum requirement is a top-four finish and he is conscious that Chelsea have the most difficult run-in, with away fixtures at Arsenal and Liverpool to come, so defeat against Tottenham would be unthinkable.
"If we lose, it will be very difficult for us," Di Matteo said. "I'm not contemplating that but it would be difficult. There is the sense among the players that we can't afford to lose. But we're positive and thinking about winning the game. A good team shows a strong reaction after a defeat and I want to see that. That comes from motivating them to be ready for the next fight."
Di Matteo has an almost fully fit squad – John Terry is set to return from calf trouble and Branislav Ivanovic is the only likely absentee with tightness in his thigh – yet selection dilemmas are the by-product. Di Matteo admitted Didier Drogba had reacted badly to being dropped for Fernando Torres at City and the Ivorian, who has a good record against Tottenham, is hopeful of a recall. Di Matteo, though, has been careful to explain his every decision to the players, perhaps mindful that his predecessor André Villas-Boas foundered over blurred lines of communication.
"They must understand the thought process and buy into it as well," Di Matteo said. "The conversations are two-way and it's important to hear the players' views. I want opinions. I do feel close to the players. I've managed to get the group to pull in the same direction."
Di Matteo felt City were "fresher" on Wednesday, when they scored late goals to win – City had entered the game after a free weekend, unlike Chelsea, who had won in the FA Cup – and he is worried about the potential for fixture congestion with his team also competing in Europe. They play Benfica in the Champions League quarter-final first leg in Lisbon on Tuesday.
"Other federations help their teams to be able to perform and it's not happening in England," he said. "Benfica play Friday night, as Napoli did before they played us in the Champions League. It gives them more time to recover. You need to take into account the FA Cup and the Champions League. No doubt City had an advantage against us. You become a victim of your success."