Chelsea players heaped more pressure on their manager after a crushing defeat in Naples, leaving Chelsea a mountain to climb to progress further into this competition. Juan Mata’s composed finish gave Chelsea the crucial away goal, but whilst the attack produced, the defence was up to its usual misdemeanours, first allowing Lavezzi to equalise for the Italian side and then his partner-in-crime Cavani was allowed to shoulder in in first half stoppage-time. Lavezzi rubbed salt into the gaping wounds in the second half, giving Napoli a crucial two-goal lead.
If AVB was in a crisis and if the media reports were true that this match would be a defining one in his Chelsea career, he did not show an ounce of it. The callow Portuguese manager made the most daring of starting XIs: Terry was forced out through injury, but the decision to leave seasoned players like Ashley Cole, Michael Essien and notably Frank Lampard for a tie of such magnitude left Sky pundit and Lampard’s cousin Jamie Redknapp in amazement, calling it “managerial suicide”. If the gamble paid off, AVB was sure to be praised for his “new Chelsea”, but it backfired tremendously, adding yet more weight on his bulging shoulders.
Napoli started the more attacking of the two, and Cahill had to be alert on his Champions League debut. The trio of Hamsik, Lavezzi and Cavani had been much talked about prior to the match, and the latter two immediately showed just what all the fuss was about, combining well within the first couple of minutes. Cech had to be alert in the pouring rain, making a good save.
Chelsea started to compose themselves, but were undone by a Bosingwa injury, adding more to the medical team’s long ‘crocked list’ already. Chelsea fans in Naples and at home kept their emotions to themselves, much happier to see Ashley Cole, however fit, on the pitch.
This defensive reshuffle brought confusion and again Cech had to be at the top of his game, palming away a Maggio shot. But against the run of play, Chelsea drew first blood, testing the Napoli defence for the first time. Paolo Cannavaro, brother of World Cup-winning Fabio, misjudged the bounce of the ball and assisted it perfectly for Juan Mata, who showed great composure to side-foot home to give The Blues a crucial away goal to take home.
Acknowledging the fortuitous nature of the goal and that Napoli had dominated until that point, Chelsea needed to slow the pace down and hold out, but AVB once again showed his inexperience and Chelsea could not see the match out even until half-time. Lavezzi cut in and when he tricked his way past Meireles, the former Liverpool man did not adjust quickly enough and allowed the Argentinian to try one from twenty yards.
The tide was really beginning to change, and the silence after Chelsea’s goal was now no more, the Napoli fans in fine voice and hoping to sneak another one, which they duly did. Maggio sent in a cross from the right and Ivanovic was ball-watching, allowing Cavani to get ahead and bundle home. The home support set off a firecracker in celebration, but Chelsea fizzed out in spectacular fashion, despite having a couple of chances – through a David Luiz header and a Ramires surge – of their own sandwiched between the two goals.
2-1 was a respectable scoreline but despite no changes, you could sense the urgency from the Chelsea crew, not wanting to go another match without winning. The three central defenders of Napoli formed a strong shield protecting keeper, which cannot be said about Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Cole, Ramires or Meireles, who did not allow Cech one moment of lapse in concentration.
The defensive struggles were proven on 65 minutes. David Luiz half-heartedly stuck out a foot to stop the ball, but the powerful Cavani was having none of it. One on one with Cech, the keeper ran out, but Cavani squared to Lavezzi, and despite Cech’s best attempts and Cahill on the line, no-one could prevent the 26-year-old from doubling the Italian’s lead. Devastating.
AVB’s decision to now call on the experience duo of Essien and Lampard looked even more desperate. Reports surfaced that AVB had fallen out with them and hence not started them from the off; to call them on at such a time emphasises the struggles of the Chelsea team, and made for ironic viewing.
Drogba continued to have a quiet night in his first start since December, but he could not show Torres how to score tonight. Infact, Napoli were still on the attack, and only a heroic goal-line clearance by Ashley Cole prevented it from being a humiliating 4-1 scoreline. Perhaps it was an intervention which could keep Chelsea in the competition, another move which adds to the question marks over Andre Villas-Boas to start a right-back at left-back even though Ashley Cole was fit enough to play.
Lampard tried a shot from 25 yards, but when De Sanctis punched the air in jubliation that he had held a shot that was speculative by all means, you could sense the eurphoria across Napoli. One foot into the next round. As for Andre Villas-Boas, he looks a dead man walking.