Will Andre Villas-Boas be judged on the result or the performance? For his sake, I hope it’s the latter because despite the score-line, Chelsea were for larger parts of this match the better side in this Champions League last 16 clash in Naples.
Napoli were not two goals better than their visitors and this was no capitulation like Arsenal suffered at the Giuseppe Meazza last week. Instead individual errors undermined an otherwise strong, attacking performance. Although, ironically, it was a goal-line clearance from Ashley Cole ten minutes before the end which kept Chelsea in the tie (and possibly, if some headlines are to be believed, Villas Boas in a job.
Yet it all started so brightly. Chelsea looked to fight fire with fire and pressed forward in numbers. They got a just reward for their reward after 27 minutes when Paolo Cannavaro tried to cut out Daniel Sturridge’s cross but managed only to set up Juan Mata, who side-footed home from 14 yards.
David Luiz went close to doubling their advantage with a header from a corner but the home side were on level terms within 11 minutes. Ezequiel Lavezzi was allowed to drift into the space in front of the back four after some poor marking by Raul Meireles and curled a shot into the bottom right-hand corner.
Then in first-half stoppage time, Edinson Cavani out-jumped Branislav Ivanovic to meet Canavaro’s cross with his shoulder and leave Villas-Boas having to change his half-time team talk plans.
Whatever he said it worked as Chelsea came out for the second half and surged forward creating chance after chance with Mata, Gary Cahill and Didier Drogba all going close.
Again, however, Chelsea’s defending was their undoing. David Luiz tried to clear a Gargano through ball but managed only to play it against Cavani, who passed to Lavezzi who was able to shoot into an empty net, past the on-rushing Petr Cech.
As Chelsea again poured forward to try and cut their arrears and Christian Maggio was allowed a clear chance. However Cole, only on the pitch because of Jose Bosingwa’s early injury cleared off the line in what could prove the game’s most significant moment.
The Chelsea boss was bullish after the game but was clear where their frailties lay: “There’s a big chance, with the away goal, to turn this goal around,” he said.
“After the first goal we had the chance to go two-nil up but we missed the opportunity, then we should have defended better. If you make mistakes against Napoli with their attacking strengths, then you will get punished.
“It’s difficult but not impossible to recover from 3-1 because of the amount of chances we get and the environment we must create at The Bridge to turn this tie around and go through.”
Confident words, but as he walked off the pitch Villas-Boas wore the look of a man heading to the gallows. Surely he has a stay of execution until at least the second leg, he at least believes he will still be in charge of Chelsea then. Can they get the two goals they need? Yes.
Can keep a clean sheet against a Napoli side which scored five away goals in the group stages? Well, that’s the real question.
Napoli: (3-4-3 ) De Sanctis; Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Aronica; Maggio,
Inler, Gargano, Zuniga; Hamsik (Pandev 83), Lavezzi (Dzemaili 74), Cavani.
Chelsea: (4-2-3-1) Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Bosingwa (Cole 11),; Ramires,
Meireles (Essien 69); Malouda (Lampard 69), Sturridge, Mata; Drogba.
Did you know… 1995/96 was the last season that the Premier League had no teams in the quarter finals of the Champions League.
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