Tonight’s showdown between Chelsea and Juventus at Stamford Bridge will see the much loved ‘Tinkerman’ return to his former club after four years away.
With all of the media coverage that has surrounded Chelsea over the last four-and-a-half years it’s easy to forget that Claudio Ranieri, the man Roman Abramovic sacked a year after the Russian’s takeover, was the manager originally responsible for leading the Blues to Champions League qualification.
But the likeable Italian didn’t fit into Abramovic’s ambitious plans and he was sacked after four years at the London club, despite reaching the semi-finals of the competition during his final season in charge.
“I knew my time was up,” Rainieri said. “From the very beginning I was just a dead man walking. I was thinking ‘even if I win everything I will get the sack’.”
Frank Lampard is quick to recall his affection for the Italian tactician. “I love the man,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Claudio, I might not be where I am now. No one’s got a bad word to say about him around the place.”
Since Ranieri’s departure Chelsea have had four managers in as many years. But rather than be bitter, Ranieri looks back fondly at his time at Stamford Bridge. “You cannot forget four years at a club,” he smiled. “I don’t think Chelsea forget either.”
On the pitch, Ranieri’s Juventus will prove a stern test for new Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink. The Bianconeri have been in scintillating form in Europe this season, with their two impressive victories over Real Madrid in the group stages standing out.
Juve haven’t played in the Champions League for the last two seasons due to their relegation to Serie B – but they’re back now – and they’ll be keen to let everyone know. The most recent match they lost in Europe was during their last visit to London in a 2-0 quarter-final defeat at Arsenal in 2006.
Chelsea, losing finalists last year, will be looking to build a solid European campaign as dreams of the league have seemingly slipped away.
Hiddink’s reign at Chelsea started with a vital 1-0 win at Aston Villa on Saturday and the Dutchman will be in charge in front of the home crowd at Stamford Bridge for the first time tomorrow night. The Blues haven’t lost at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League since their 2-1 defeat at the hands of Barcelona back in 2006.
So both managers will be looking to make their own points tonight. Ranieri will want to show Abramovic the error of his ways, whilst newly-appointed Hiddink will be looking to make an impression on his first home game in charge. Part three of England v Italy looks set to be as exciting as the other two.
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