Champions League victory over Napoli could give Chelsea momentum at vital time

Chelsea completed a stunning Champions League comeback against Napoli on Wednesday evening, winning 4-1 on the night and 5-4 on aggregate having lost 3-1 to the Serie A side in Italy in the first leg. In doing so Chelsea became not only the sole Premier League outfit in the latter stages of this year’s tournament but also rejuvenated their topsy-turvy season.

In triumphing over Napoli, Chelsea displayed a spirit that was singularly lacking at other times this season, most notably perhaps in defeats to Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, Everton at Goodison Park and the match that signalled the end for Andre Villas-Boas, West Bromwich Albion earlier this month. There were signs of strength under Villas-Boas in victories over Manchester City in December and in going three goals up against Manchester United in early February. The team’s failure however to replicate the kind of performance that brought three points against Roberto Mancini’s side and the wasting of that three goal lead against United, where Chelsea conceded three goals in less than 30 minutes, were symptomatic of Chelsea’s problems under the now-former manager Villas-Boas.

A new manager can often have a galvanising effect on a club suffering through a run of poor form, as Martin O’Neill’s appointment at Sunderland shows. The case of Terry Connor at Wolverhampton Wanderers however, also indicates the right replacement has to be installed. Chelsea’s results since Villas-Boas was replaced by his assistant Roberto Di Matteo suggest that the former Chelsea midfielder is the appropriate replacement in the short term while the Chelsea hierarchy identify their longer term preferred choice. Three consecutive wins against Birmingham City, Stoke City and Napoli, progression to the next round of both the FA Cup and the Champions League and seven goals scored to only one conceded are a stark contrast to the last three games of the Villas-Boas era, where a 3-0 victory over struggling Bolton Wanderers was the meat in a sandwich of defeat to West Brom and Napoli.

The next challenge facing Di Matteo is an FA Cup meeting with Championship side Leicester City and two Premier League fixtures, away to Manchester City and at home to Tottenham Hotspur. Both City and Spurs have fallen into some indifferent form, with the Manchester side losing to Swansea City in their last outing and losing their grip on first place in the table in the process, while Tottenham have lost their last three league games for the first time under Harry Redknapp. Despite the pairs’ struggles, however, they still represent a fearsome proposition, with City perhaps even able to call upon Carlos Tevez again when the sides meet on March 21. But having produced a result for the ages against Napoli and kept alive their hope of winning the Champions League for the first time, Chelsea should find a new lease of life at a crucial time in the season. As it stands Chelsea are only four points behind Spurs and momentum may finally be on their side.

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