Old guard take Chelsea through
In a yet another Champions League epic encounter at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea beat Napoli 4-1 on last night and 5-4 on aggregate to complete a remarkable comeback against the Serie A side. The match went in to extra time after normal time ended at 3-1, 4-4 on aggregate. Chelsea then snatched victory in extra time through a Branislav Ivanovic strike. This ensures that the English Premier League is still represented in the Quarter Finals.
Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea’s interim coach till the end of the season, fielded a 4-2-3-1 line-up with Essien replacing the suspended Raul Meireles. Sturridge, Lampard and Mata played behind Didier Drogba. Napoli welcomed back their coach, Walter Mazzari after his two match touchline ban was reconsidered by the CAS. They fielded the same 3-4-3 lineup as the one that started in Naples in the first leg.
Chelsea pushed high up the field right from the whistle and Napoli looked happy to sit deep and defend. But, in the initial 20 minutes, Chelsea looked really vulnerable to swift breaks from Napoli. The away side created a host of chances and failed to score because of some poor finishing and good goalkeeping from Petr Cech.
Soon, Chelsea began to find their feet and they looked to stretch Napoli with Ramires, Cole and Ivanovic adding width and exploiting Drogba’s physical prowess by whipping in crosses to the Ivorian front-man. The Napoli back three of Campagnaro, Aronica and Cannavaro looked totally out of depth against aerial balls played into the area. Chelsea, eventually took the lead on 28 minutes with Drogba scoring from a Ramires cross, beating Cannavaro to the ball. Napoli had a chance to immediately score themselves after they quickly broke from a Chelsea corner but Cavani’s finishing was uncharacteristically timid and poor.
Chelsea dominated the rest of the half as they camped in the Napoli half and created numerous chances. The experience of Essien and Lampard proved vital as Chelsea began to look more assured defensively, especially on the right hand side, and quelled Napoli counterattacks by drawing tactical fouls. The home side almost went two goals up at the stroke of half time, when a goal bound David Luiz shot beat the keeper only to be saved by Paolo Cannavaro.
Chelsea didn’t have to wait too long for the second goal though, as skipper John Terry headed home from a Frank Lampard corner in the 47th minute. At this stage, Chelsea looked set to go through. Napoli had their backs to the wall and faced elimination. The goal shook them up and they responded with a period of domination that resulted in a goal. Central midfielder, Gokhan Inler brilliantly controlled a headed clearance from John Terry and he slammed home the volley after brilliantly chesting down the ball. The Swiss international showed remarkable technique to score from the edge of the penalty area. Now, Napoli were once again ahead 4-3 on aggregate. Once again, they retreated into their own half and invited more pressure from Chelsea. Their defending of aerial balls and set-pieces continued to be poor and they conceded a penalty in the 75th minute after Andrea Dossena handled goal-ward header from a Chelsea corner. Frank Lampard stepped up to slam home the penalty and with tie standing at 4-4, the match was setup for a grandstand finale.
The goal wiped out Napoli’s first leg advantage. It opened up the game totally as both team pushed for a victory. The rest of the match produced some good end to end football. Both teams had chances to score. Drogba could’ve won a penalty on the 90th minute as he was hauled down by Aronica but the referee thought differently.
The extra-time saw the substitution of John Terry as he is making a comback from a knee injury. Marek Hamsik’s first time volley from a Lavezzi cross was just wide while a long ball brought Morgan De Sanctis out from his goal, Torres failed to score into an open goal albeit from a tight angle. Eventually, Chelsea scored their fourth goal of the night. Ivanovic, stayed back from a Chelsea corner and a low cross from Drogba found him unmarked in the penalty area and the Serb finished with aplomb sending the home fans into delirium. The goal was scored in the 112th minute and Chelsea ended the first half of the extra time 5-4 ahead on aggregate.
The second half saw Chelsea falling back and guarding their lead as they looked to defend their lead. In the absence of John Terry, Drogba fell back to help with the defending and the Chelsea defence looked more and more assured as the match worn on. Credit has to be given to the contribution of the old guard of Chelsea. Veteran players like Lampard, Essien, Drogba and Terry marshaled the troops well. This Chelsea team was distinctly better than the version that played under Andre Villas-Boas. The performance was reminiscent of the Chelsea of the old and this game may well have changed their season.