Chelsea travel to Naples on Tuesday night to face Societa Sportiva Calcio Napoli in, the first knock out phase of, the Champions League. Napoli are unbeaten, at the 60 000 capacity Stadio Sao Paolo, since a home defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in 1994. Meanwhile Chelsea suffered defeat to Seria A side Inter Milan, at this stage, last season.
Napoli came through a very strong Group A as runners up to Bayern Munich. Manchester City and Villarreal the two teams to miss out. At home, in the group stages, Napoli beat Man City and the ‘yellow submarines’ and drew 1-1 with Bayern. The German side’s goal being the first conceded, at home, by Napoli in 530 minutes of European football.
Chelsea, eventually, finished winners of Group E, a weaker group, containing Bayer Leverkusen, Valencia and Genk. Chelsea won all 3 home matches but failed to win away, having lost in Germany and securing draws in the other 2.
Domestically, Napoli and Chelsea have had very similar campaigns. The Italians lie sixth in Seria A whilst the Blues lie fifth in the EPL .Neither side seem to have the consistency to sustain a climb in to the top 3 of their respective leagues.
Napoli have a very good, experienced spine to their line up. The reliable De Sanctis in goal, the remarkable Cannavaro at the back, the very tricky (and sought after) Marek Hamsik in the middle and the very impressive Edinson Cavani up front. They will, however, be missing their manager Walter Mazzarri, who is banned from the touchline in both legs.
Chelsea are a squad with huge CL experience. I think this is the key to getting through this very tricky tie. A draw in the land of the Pizza will be an excellent result. AVB must go with experience. My line up, to gain a valuable away draw would be, Cech, behind a back four of Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz and Cole, a midfield trio of Essien, lampard and Ramires, behind a front three of Malouda, Mata and Drogba. That team would get a score draw.
This match is of huge importance to all at Stamford Bridge. I am not going to get involved in the domestic shambles we are facing, at the moment, that is for another day. The welcome relief of the of the Champions league, now that it has entered the ‘European Cup’ phase of the competition is a massive incentive for this team. An incentive that has seen us conjure up incredible performances in the past. A ten year old junior Blue could do the team talk for this one but AVB must get it tactically spot on. Solid at the back and quick and incisive on the break, we can really hurt Napoli. They will not like a marauding Didier Drogba running at their back four and set pieces will be decisive.
Am I confident, you bet, am I nervous, of course, do I know what is going to happen, no way! Welcome to the Chelsea class of 2012!