And so the upturn in fortunes since the departure of Andre Villas-Boas continues and it would appear that the change of manager has been the catalyst. No doubt there is more unity within the dressing room and greater dialogue between the players and the management; two imperatives for positive performances.
However, luck has played its full part in proceedings as well.
For starters, the availability of John Terry has been the foundation upon which recent – relative – success has been built. It is no coincidence that the captain’s lightning recovery from knee surgery has ensured that the team has kept three clean sheets in the four matches in which he has featured since his return to fitness. Villas-Boas was denied his leader’s services for the first leg against Napoli and saw David Luiz’s partnership with Champions League debutant Gary Cahill flounder in the white-hot atmosphere of the Stadio San Paolo. Terry was also unavailable for what would prove to be the Portuguese’s final game in charge, the 1-0 defeat at West Brom when the winning goal was the product of a total lack of organisation within the defence.
The bounce of the ball – metaphorically speaking - has also tended to spin in Chelsea’s favour rather more often under the supervision of Roberto Di Matteo. Consider the following: the bizarre miscommunication of the Napoli players at Stamford Bridge that saw a cheap corner conceded from which Chelsea went 2-0 up courtesy of Terry; the ludicrous stamp by Stoke’s Ricardo Fuller on Branislav Ivanovic that saw a potentially tricky opponent reduced to 10 men; the deflection from Cahill’s shot that wrong-footed Man City’s Joe Hart to give us the lead albeit in vain; the refusal of the ball to go over the line just before half time against Tottenham when Rafael van der Vaart and Adebayor somehow spurned three chances between them within the blink of an eye; the thunderous shot by Benfica’s Oscar Cardoso that struck David Luiz on the goal line rather than the back of the net.
Can you believe that any of those moments would have gone the same way had Andre Villas-Boas been in charge? Of course, such conjecture can be easily dismissed and - probably should be – in light of the old football maxim ‘you make your own luck’. However, our former manager was at the wrong end of two ‘offside’ goals away at Manchester United (a game in which both Fernando Torres and Ramires also contrived to miss open goals); saw Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny not receive his marching orders despite clearly denying Ashley Cole a goalscoring opportunity during the 5-3 home defeat to the Gunners when the score was still 2-2; witnessed Nicolas Anelka miss a point blank header at QPR in that fractious 1-0 defeat at Loftus Road; denied two potential match-winning penalties on the opening day at Stoke while also seeing Man United be gifted a spot-kick as they fought back from 3-0 down to draw at Stamford Bridge in February.
Had those errors by officials and players not been made then the table could be looking very different indeed and it is highly likely that Villas-Boas would still be employed in west London rather than nursing a bruised ego with an enormous payoff cheque embossed with the signature of Roman Abramovich.
As well as bristling at his misfortune, one can also imagine Villas-Boas watching events unfold in Lisbon on Tuesday night with incredulity. The line-up chosen by Di Matteo looked remarkably similar to the eleven that took the field at Napoli. Yet while they wilted in Italy, the players were resolute in Portugal. The contrast in regard to performance and result could not have been sharper.
But while an element of luck is almost always present in any moment of success, ultimately preparation and belief play a greater role. The body language of the players has changed considerably for the better in the past three and a half weeks, though whether that is Di Matteo’s influence or the opportunity given by the clean slate of new management is hard to know.
What can be attributed to Di Matteo is the understanding that he has forged within the team. He has been unafraid to rotate his players and has been equally as bold in team selection as his predecessor but the players appear to be clearer in their mind of the jobs they are being asked to do. The gusto of the second leg against Napoli, the swatting aside of Leicester City, the discipline against Benfica all speak of a side sticking to their task. Yes, the Tottenham game was disappointing as was the defeat at City but there are more reasons to get excited about the team now that at any other point this season.
It will all count for nothing should Chelsea fail to make it to the last four of the Champions League and a possible showdown with Lionel Messi’s Barcelona, fall away in the Premier League with a poor display against Aston Villa on Saturday or capitulate against Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final.
Still, at least there is now good reason to be hopeful, a sensation that had been all too lacking in the final weeks of the previous manager’s reign.
You can read more of Phil's opinions at ShoutyAndSpitty.com