With Andre Villas-Boas departing Chelsea quicker than one could say ‘AVB’, the task of leading the Blues into the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League falls upon RdM – or Roberto di Matteo as he is more commonly known. Napoli stand in the way of the last English club in Europe’s elite competition, and the Swiss-born Italian interim manager (no wonder people have started to abbreviate things nowadays) has been thrown firmly in the deep end after an anaemic performance in Naples which saw Chelsea lose 3-1.
The first-leg scoreline was slightly deceptive, with Napoli’s erratic defending proving to be about as reliable as a News of the World article. Chelsea should have come away from Naples with more than just another nail in AVB’s coffin; as it is, memories of Barcelona at home in 2005 must be conjured up. The 4-2 win back then was dramatic enough, but a 2-1 would do on Wednesday night, unless they really want to play with our nerves again.
While it’s Chelsea who need goals to progress – thus, a narrow 1-0 win over a Stoke City side who played predominantly with just ten men on Saturday failed to convince – Napoli were involved in a high-scoring 6-3 win over Cagliari – Chelsea old boy Gianfranco Zola’s last team – on Friday evening. The fourth-placed side in Serie A rested lethal striker Edison Cavani but could still boast six different scorers in a game which saw Napoli 3-1 up at half-time. Although they are in goalscoring form at the moment, just one win in three Champions League away matches so far this season could be cause for concern. A 1-1 draw however, like the one they managed against Manchester City in the group stages, would be enough to see the Italians through.
Although Chelsea’s performance at home to Stoke was far from vintage, di Matteo will be able to take some positives into Wednesday’s match, notably the return of John Terry into the heart of his defence. The England international was expected to miss the majority of the season’s run-in, but he was able to step-in and help Chelsea keep a third clean sheet in the four games since the defeat at Napoli. Juan Mata – who set up Didier Drogba’s winner on Saturday – and Daniel Sturridge were both kept out of the last starting eleven, but should be included from the start this time around.
Roberto di Matteo’s last playing appearance for Chelsea was in European competition against St Gallen from Switzerland. A match memorable for all the wrong reasons, it featured a horrific leg fracture for the once-cultured midfielder which eventually finished off di Matteo’s football career. Now, he finds himself managing a side in Europe against a team from Italy. It may be his first taste of running with the big boys, but he – and the rest of Stamford Bridge – will be hoping that it won’t be his last.