If you were to only read the media and the posts on our own forum without watching any of Napoli’s matches, you’d think that Chelsea have zero chance because Napoli are the superior team.
There’s no doubt that they have three of the best attacking players in Europe and are capable of scoring bags of goals. However, their defence is not quite as good as a lot make them out to be.
I didn’t write a column about the Birmingham replay because there wasn’t much that we could learn from the first match. With Napoli, I think there is a lot that I learned from the first leg, and I feel that we weren’t that far off from getting a victory at the San Paolo. Suffice it to say; I don’t think Napoli were 3-1 better than us on the night. Bottom line is that they took their chances that they got from our mistakes, and we didn’t capitalize on theirs.
Forget about formations; forget 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, or any other number combinations. The best 11 will play, and the numbers only matter as to how you press and move.
First point I’d like to make is that I don’t think that Andre Villas-Boas was that far off tactically in the first match.
People questioned the team selection from Villas-Boas for the first leg, but I didn’t think it was that far off. I thought from an attacking perspective, he got everything almost perfect. To beat the 3-4-2-1, you have to force the back three to turn into a back five by pushing the fullbacks to a deeper starting position. Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic did exactly that in the first leg and caused them all sorts of problems. Where Villas-Boas got it wrong was in the defensive transition. Rather than use the two deeper midfielders to cut off supply to Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi, he had them press Walter Gargano and Gokhan Inler. That allowed Hamsik and Lavezzi to exploit the space behind the attacking fullbacks, which caused a lot of problems.
Secondly, everyone talks about how many goals Napoli scores, but their attacking prowess masks the defensive frailty.
The one thing I was surprised about in the first leg was how slow Hugo Campagnar, Paolo Cannavaro, and Salvatore Aronica actually were. Serie A doesn’t have a lot of lone strikers that play with the idea to turn a CB with pace and make them chase.
Plus, in the group stages, Napoli didn’t face a single lone striker that played that way either. Neither Nilmar nor Mario Gomez are known for their turn of pace, and Manchester City played a two-striker system or played Dzeko alone.
I personally would’ve liked to see how Napoli would’ve fared had City played Mario Balotelli or Sergio Aguero as a lone striker, flanked by two wingers, or if Arjen Robben had been fit for Bayern Munich.
As it stands, we were one of the few teams to test that lack of pace, and I would say we were largely successful. They appear to be a bit susceptible to pace.
That brings me to point 3.
Daniel Sturridge needs to give up dreams of being a lone striker and learn that his skill set is best suited to a wide forward and adapt accordingly.
Daniel Sturridge gave Napoli absolute nightmares in the first leg. He ran at the back line with pace and really threated Aronica to the point that Juan Zuniga had to come deep and support him. The only problem with Sturridge is that he doesn’t really help his fullback. It’s something that even Robben, Joe Cole, and Duff had to learn during their time with Jose Mourinho.
Sturridge is at his best when he can turn and run at a back line. That’s almost wasted when he has to play as a lone striker. If he wants to play striker, unfortunately he may have to find a team that plays two up front.
This point is related to point 2. Drogba scores goals even when he doesn’t play well. Torres doesn’t score goals but plays better as a link man. However, Drogba is not the right choice for this match, despite the goals.
The reason I say that Torres has to start is because of how he plays stylistically different to Drogba. Drogba never really challenged Napoli’s back line because he stayed high and tight to Campagnaro and Cannavaro. The problem was he never tried to turn either of them with pace and attacked them directly. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the goal came from a long ball that found Mata in the center forward position, and Cannavaro had to turn and chase the ball to clear it. You could see Mata’s pace worry Cannavaro, and he rushed his clearance.
Torres plays that style. He’s not shown the electric turn of pace that he once had, but he still tries to put the defender on his hip, turn him, and force him to chase. The problem is that when he sets up his one-two move, the two hasn’t always come back to him. I think his presence and pace could worry Napoli’s back line, especially if Sturridge flanks him on one side.
Frank Lampard will play, but where?
Villas-Boas didn’t pick Lampard in the first match because he felt that Lampard isn’t a holding midfielder. However, it’s become clear that Roberto Di Matteo views the deep two in a different way. He likes his deep two to stay deep, but to act as distributors with smart passing. That’s why I think he hauled Meireles off before half time. The problem with Raul is his distribution has not been good this season. At the same time, it restricts Lampard’s natural game of getting forward into the box, but if you play Torres, I don’t think it’s that much of a problem.
I think we can easily get that 2-0. Di Matteo’s defence has looked much more solid than Villas-Boas defence. I’m not entirely sure why, but the confidence of the last two clean sheets will help. That away goal is vital because it keeps us in this match. We could definitely cause them issues, but the team has to show the desire to do what’s required.