But while the attention has been focused particularly on the omission of Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard, it was the absence of Michael Essien that seemed most perplexing.
Ever since his return in January from serious knee injuries, Michael Essien seemed almost like a new signing, while other clubs were searching throughout the transfer window. It was inevitable after such a long period of absence the Bison would not be an automatic first choice, as symptoms of fitness and match practice were apparent in his first handful of matches.
Not that Essien has been in sublime form since his return, but questions casted over the tactical and strategic decision after Tuesday was led by disbelief of leaving Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Essien on the bench, with the latter being the most missed on the pitch.
Eyebrows were most certainly raised when the line-up was announced, especially with Bosingwa at left back for a second major game this season while Malouda was favoured instead of Lampard. We know AVB excused Ashley Cole because he was not fully fit and selecting Malouda for tactical purposes, but much reasoning still remains towards leaving out Essien.
In hindsight, Ashley Cole managed to play 80 minutes and Lampard added composure once he entered the field of play. Although doubts have been raised about AVB’s managerial capability, whilst admiring his courage to drop high profile players, his decision to keep Malouda instead of Lampard seemed fair game.
Lampard has been very much below par this season despite being our joint top goalscorer, and although he could play a deeper central midfield role it wouldn’t suit him and Malouda offered the quick switch of formation of 4231 to 433 during the game.
Essien however, would have been an ideal choice for the holding role, considering both Ramires and Meireles are both attack minded players and even more so that the Portuguese midfielder shirked most tackles and contentious balls.
The Ghanian’s strength and energy were sorely missed in the middle of the park as well as the right hand side of the pitch, where Napoli found space behind Ivanovic in abundance and exploited it.
Rumours are now still flying around the back pages of the press with reported rifts between the manager and Ashley Cole, which is flanked with further apparent unrest with Lamps and Essien before the Champions League tie.
And with Lampard’s relationship has deteriorated with not getting as many matches as he would hope, it is the so called showdown with Essien that appears more confusing since nothing concrete towards any dispute is upheld.
Villas Boas tactics were left to be admired for the courage shown in attack, even though it brutally played in the hands of Napoli’s counter attacking philosophies. The leaving out of the big time experienced trio was greatly missed but more so of Essien who showed composure and awareness when he finally came on.
Stabilising the tactics needs to be deployed within the team towards Saturday’s home league match against Bolton, allowing the fullbacks to withdraw from advancing so high up the pitch, but also to settle the midfield in both its defensive and attacking modes, which is something Essien provides, assuming he is selected, over to you AVB.