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Aug 17, 2012

Di Matteo: City still favourites

It is not just a new season but also a new outlook for Chelsea. Because, by ending a long wait, they've also lifted a weight. As well as finally lifting the trophy that Roman Abramovich wanted for so long in the Champions League, they have filled the squad with the type of attacking players they have lacked for much of the Russian's ownership.

After a busy summer, Roberto Di Matteo was giving little away about his hopes for the new season, although he did concede that one thing will stay the same - despite the transfer of Robin van Persie to Manchester United, the Italian believes last season's champions are the likeliest team to win the league this time.

"I still think City are the favourites. They haven't lost any key players, they showed their strength," he said. "Van Persie is a good signing... I think last year showed it was very balanced at the top. At the end, the two Manchester teams ran away. I think this season it will be four teams."

Di Matteo, who included Chelsea in that group of four, refused to name the other side he felt would be competing with the two Manchester clubs.

And the way in which he spoke made it seem evident that Abramovich's demand for this season was not necessarily to deliver the title - just to get close to it.

"I think we have to try and catch up with the Manchester teams. The gap last season was big so our aim is to catch them up... I think we have to try. We have to try and challenge ourselves, so I wouldn't say there is no expectation.

"I think expectation levels at Chelsea have always been very high. We might find a little bit of pressure to it, but it was always high anyway. It's an ambitious club and we know we have to win trophies and be successful."

And regarding what Abramovich actually wants? "We keep those talks private."

It is, of course, no secret that the owner has always craved cavalier football. Given the Champions League win and the style of player that Chelsea have signed, that expectation, for once, seems perfectly reasonable.

"I've said many times before, over time we will change [our style] but we still have that core," Di Matteo said. "Pre-season has been a little bit disrupted by the Euros and Olympics, with players coming back at different dates, so we haven't that much time to work with the team."

Di Matteo said that the only injury affecting his selection this weekend was to Marko Marin, while Oscar is unlikely to feature due to the fact he only properly arrived on Wednesday. "He's only been in the building for a day and a half, so we'll see," the manager said. "We still have to think about it."

He added that he would be keeping an eye on Juan Mata, given that the Spaniard had a full summer with the European Championships and Olympics. "I will factor in a break for him at some point," he said.

"He won't be able to just go through the whole year like this. I think we'll have to plan it intelligently."

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