London: By winning the FA Cup this weekend and achieving the first part of a possible trophy double, interim Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo can make what is already being seen as an irresistible case for taking the job on a permanent basis.
Since coming in as a replacement for the fired Andre Villas-Boas at the start of March, Di Matteo has helped transform a Chelsea season that was threatening to unravel.
Relying on the experience and know-how of the so-called 'old guard' of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba has led to an upturn in results, including unlikely progress to the Champions League final thanks to a memorable semi-final victory over Barcelona.
Before that May 19 showpiece against Bayern Munich is Saturday's FA Cup final against Liverpool.
"He's been a revelation since he took over," Terry said. "He's got a great rapport with the fans, a great understanding with the players. He's communicating with everyone and things have gone very well for us. He deserves a huge amount of credit for that."
"To win, it will put himself in a very good position," Terry said of Di Matteo's chances of becoming full-time coach. "He's not thinking of that at the moment, he's not letting the players get distracted by anything. He's very passionate, he's Chelsea through and through, and that's certainly rubbed off on the players. If we can do it with the added bonus that Robbie can get the job at the end, that'd be great."
Di Matteo, who is looking to become the third straight Italian coach to win the FA Cup after Chelsea's Carlo Ancelotti in 2010 and Manchester City's Roberto Mancini last year, has fond memories of the FA Cup final as a player, having scored after 43 seconds in Chelsea's 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough in 1997 and the winner for the London club against Aston Villa in 2000.
The same can be said of Drogba, who has scored in every competitive match he has played at Wembley — including FA Cup final wins in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
The Ivory Coast international hasn't started for Chelsea since producing two powerhouse performances in the Champions League against Barcelona, but is set to return to the starting line-up on Saturday in place of Fernando Torres.
"Chelsea are an experienced team full of quality players," Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said. "It will boil down to the small details on the day, who gets the big decisions and who gets that stroke of luck. I don't think there is much between the teams and I think it is a 50-50 game."
In Gerrard, Liverpool — bidding to clinch a domestic cup double — have their own player who often saves his best displays for when it really matters. Arguably the England midfielder's most rounded display was in the 2006 final against West Ham, when he scored twice — including a stunning last-minute goal to force extra time — before Liverpool eventually won on penalties.
That was the last of Liverpool's seven FA Cup titles — one more than their opponent, who have been England's cup specialists over the past decade.
"Chelsea at Wembley is something special and hopefully we can keep it special again," Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech said. "If you are a big club, you keep winning trophies and we didn't have one last season. We want to have trophies this season — we don't want to finish the season empty-handed — and we can have possibly two trophies at the end, which would make the season absolutely brilliant."
Chelsea's hopes of finishing in the English Premier League's top four, ensuring qualification for the Champions League, were virtually extinguished on Wednesday thanks to a 2-0 home loss to Newcastle. The Champions League final against Bayern Munich on May 19 offers Chelsea's other hope of qualifying for next season's competition, but Di Matteo will be insisting his players concentrate on the game in front of them.
"The top four has gone and now the only chance we have to qualify for the Champions League is to win the final in Munich," midfielder John Obi Mikel said. "First we have to make sure we win the FA Cup final on Saturday. We can't let that opportunity pass."
Lampard, Cole and Juan Mata should return to Chelsea's team with Drogba, after all four were named on the bench against Newcastle. Centrebacks Gary Cahill and David Luiz are likely to miss out again because of hamstring injuries.
Liverpool played a largely second-string team for the 1-0 loss to Fulham on Tuesday, which left the club languishing in eighth place in the league standings. Manager Kenny Dalglish's top players, such as Gerrard and Luis Suarez, will be fresh for the final.