Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Kirsten Schlewitz On February - 20 - 2012

Champions League Preview: Napoli v Chelsea

On Tuesday, Napoli host Chelsea in the Champions League Round of 16 — meaning it’s unlikely that this Napoli fan will sleep on Monday night. Chelsea may have hit a rough patch recently, but that’s no guarantee that things will go well at the San Paolo. The partenopei have, how shall I put this…they have a slight problem when they underestimate the strength of their opposition.

Yet Chelsea did the double just two years ago, winning the Premier League and the FA Cup, and finished second last season. So why underestimate the Blues? Well, in case you haven’t been paying attention to English football, Chelsea have been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride this season. Despite the promise of their new manager, Andre Villas-Boas, the team are in 5th place, and haven’t won a league match since January 14, when they beat Sunderland 1-0. Since then, they were held to draws by Norwich and Swansea, squandered a 3-0 lead over Manchester United, were beaten by Everton, and barely managed to force a replay of their FA Cup tie against Championship Side Birmingham City.

They, perhaps more than any other Champions League side, are a team in transition. AVB yearns to do things his way, creating a squad of younger, exciting players. The dressing room is in disarray, with the veterans having trouble adjusting, or perhaps even listening to a man their own age. The disorder is shown on the pitch, in misplayed passes, mistimed runs, and a lack of goals. And, of course, there’s the Fernando Torres issue.

But — and this might be slightly controversial — Chelsea’s downward spiral is exactly the reason Napoli shouldn’t let down their guard on Tuesday. A spot in the Champions League might not be out of their reach for next season, but a top-four finish isn’t exactly what Roman Abramovich is seeking. Villas-Boas might be boasting about the confidence Chelsea’s owner has in him, but if the club doesn’t make it to the next round, it’s almost certain the former Porto boss will be polishing his CV.  You can be certain Didier Drogba will be starting. The Ivorian’s presence was sorely missed during the Africa Cup of Nations, and his halftime substitution at the weekend brought a coherence and desire to the Chelsea side.

I’m not going to lie — it’s the thought of Drogba that will keep me awake at night. The Napoli defense hasn’t exactly been watertight this season, and with Hugo Campagnaro having to leave the match against Fiorentina after just twelve minutes, things are a bit scarier. At least Morgan De Sanctis, brought down with a touch of flu on Friday, will return in net.

With the way Napoli were firing in the 3-0 victory over Fior, most fans, most teams, would be confident in their chances on Tuesday. But this is no ordinary team, and if Chelsea are  roller coaster, the partenopei are like one of those free-fall drops. Like standing on the top of a 200 foot platform, waiting for the floor to give way. So at this point, we all take deep breaths, hold hands, and think of the Holy Trinity . Think of the way they combined for the first goal against the Viola. Think of Edinson Cavani’s brace. Think of the tricky runs of Ezequiel Lavezzi.

And if that doesn’t work, do what Walter Mazzarri will certainly be doing as he sits in the stands: light up a cigarette and fill a glass with whisky.

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