• Juventus v Chelsea, Champions League

Torres faces axe for Juve clash

ESPN staff
November 20, 2012
Fernando Torres was hauled off by Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo against West Brom © PA Photos

Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo is considering whether to drop striker Fernando Torres ahead of the Blues' crunch Champions League clash with Juventus on Tuesday evening.

It was deja vu for one of football's most trigger-happy club today as Di Matteo became the latest Blues manager to face serious questions about his job security following a slump in results.

And defeat in tomorrow night's huge Group E encounter in Turin could lead to his exit.

Speculation is rife Di Matteo has finally lost patience with Torres after hauling him off during Saturday's Premier League defeat at West Brom after another miserable performance.

The Chelsea boss admitted after the game he would consider dropping the Spain striker but said on Monday: "I'm not going to disclose my ideas about tomorrow. I'll make the final decisions tonight.''

Ashley Cole should return after recovering from his hamstring injury, as should several other rested players but John Terry (knee) and Frank Lampard (calf) were left in London.

Defeat would leave Chelsea on the brink of becoming the first Champions League holders not to secure a place in the knockout stage, having taken qualification for granted during the Roman Abramovich era.

And there is no telling how Abramovich would react to such an embarrassing exit, especially in the midst of the club's latest winter of discontent, which has seen them drop from first to third in the Barclays Premier League after taking two points from their last four games.

Di Matteo admitted on Friday he feared Abramovich was going to sack him along with Andre Villas-Boas before he took charge of Chelsea but he refused to reveal whether he was of a similar mind this evening.

"I'm not thinking about that,'' he said. "I'm preparing for the game and the team for tomorrow, and have important decisions to make about that. We are very confident we can have a good game and, hopefully, a good result.''

The Italian was, however, given a welcome vote of confidence from an unlikely source. Juve star Claudio Marchisio and assistant manager Angelo Alessio both hailed the job done by Di Matteo at Stamford Bridge, the latter confident Di Matteo would not be sacked if the European champions failed to reach the knockout stages.

Alessio, performing the duties of Juve manager Antonio Conte, currently serving a ban for his role in 'Calcioscommesse' match-fixing scandal, said of Di Matteo: "He did something extraordinary last season and he is showing it again this year.

"We're pleased when an Italian coach does so well in England. We are pleased with what he has done and what he is doing. I don't think he is actually going to lose his job if they don't qualify.''

Midfielder Marchisio added: "He arrived in mid-season in place of the previous coach. For this reason, he was probably under pressure but, nonetheless, he has been able to reach great things, so I am extremely happy and satisfied with his results.''

Marchisio and Alessio had no intention of easing the pressure on Di Matteo, whose side are one point clear of Juve with two group games remaining.

Marchisio said: "Qualification is at stake. We know it's very important - our biggest game of the year - and we want to go through.''

Juve are sweating over the availability of one of their strikers after Mirko Vucinic missed training yesterday due to flu.

Juventus player to watch: Had things been different, Andrea Pirlo would be lining up in Chelsea blue rather than the black and white stripes of Juventus tonight. As it is, Di Matteo's men will have to be at their best to snuff out the danger posed by the Italian playmaker as he roams from deep.

Chelsea player to watch: Juan Mata might have been brought in to kick-start Torres' goal hunt, but while he can't work miracles he has proven to be a leading light for the Blues this season. There's a hint of Zola about the Spaniard, which should see him right at home trying to unlock the Juve defence.

Betting: Juventus came back to nick a 2-2 draw from high-flying Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in September, but Chelsea arrive struggling for form and confidence. Juve, top of Serie A, will smell blood - back them to win the second half after drawing the first at 15/4 with bet365

Prediction: 2-1

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