Champions League preview: Chelsea v Napoli
Chelsea need to improve on recent performances if they are to advance to the Champions League quarter-finals at the expense of Napoli.
A 3-1 loss in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie in Italy left the Premier League side on the brink of an early exit ahead of Wednesday’s clash.
But since that defeat Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas has left Stamford Bridge and Chelsea have recorded consecutive wins with Roberto Di Matteo in charge.
Those victories, however, have come against Birmingham City and Stoke, far weaker opponents than Serie A outfit Napoli.
Walter Mazzarri’s in-form side have won six consecutive matches, including a 6-3 thrashing of Cagliari on Friday.
The resounding win underlined Napoli’s attacking talent, with Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi getting on the scoresheet and Edison Cavani only needed off the bench.
A goal would make it difficult for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and Napoli have netted at least once in their last seven matches.
Di Matteo said he wanted his team to believe they could overturn the deficit, and added they needed to produce a performance similar to that of Arsenal, who overcame AC Milan 3-0 on Tuesday but lost 4-3 on aggregate.
“The players realise they can win,” Di Matteo said.
“Arsenal did and now it’s up to us to have the belief we can do the same.”
Villas-Boas was criticised for risky team selection, including leaving Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien on the bench, in the first leg against Napoli at Stadio San Paolo.
Di Matteo is unlikely to take the same chances, with an experienced side – much like the one that edged Stoke City in the Premier League on Saturday – likely to be preferred.
The back four of Cole, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic are beginning to settle, and they have a huge role to play in containing the talented Napoli forwards if Chelsea are to have any chance of progressing to the last eight.