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Frank Tigani On March - 14 - 2012

Napoli Set to Make History Against Chelsea

“I think that Napoli are superior to this Chelsea team, Mazzarri’s Napoli are doing better and they have all the cards in their favour to give the English trouble - even at home,” said former Napoli player Moreno Ferrario earlier this week. Whether this is true or not, this is probably not the attitude the Partenopei will want to take into their date with Chelsea at the Bridge tomorrow night.

Admittedly, following their 3-1 defeat of the Londoners in the first leg three weeks ago at the San Paolo, Walter Mazzari’s men have a great chance to continue their fairy-tale amongst the elite of Europe. Any kind of draw will see them through while Chelsea will need to score two unanswered goals, or even more if the visitors knick a goal, to progress instead. Indeed, the Azzurri have much going for them, but, not everything is in their favour as suggested by Ferrario.

For one, Chelsea are seasoned veterans of Champions League football. They have made the last 16 of the competition for the last nine season’s running, making one appearance in a final. On the contrary, this is Napoli’s first foray into Europe’s most prestigious competition and their lack of experience could show when it comes down to the crunch in London.

Secondly, Italian teams have had a tough time in recent years when going to England to get a result, whether it be for a draw or a win. Only on five occasions in the last 16 matches played – including Milan’s loss to Arsenal last week – on English soil have Italian sides avoided defeat. History is against Napoli in this respect.

But, then again, Napoli have been highly impressive on the road in this season’s Champions League. They may have lost out to Bayern Munich 3-2 at the Allianz Arena – not a shameful result in any way – but they did trump Villareal 2-0 on their travels while most significantly they held Manchester City to a well-deserved 1-1 draw at Ettihad stadium. This could be one of those ‘cards’ Ferrario was alluding to.

Possibly, another one of those ‘cards’ inferred by Ferrario that could be to Napoli’s advantage is Chelsea’s recent home record in the Champions League’s knockout stages. Generally, the Blues may be a real force at home, their record this campaign reads three wins from three with ten goals scored and not one conceded. However, in knockout ties their home form leaves much to be desired. They have managed just one win from their last five Champions League home fixtures, drawing two and losing two.

Under the stewardship of Roberto Di Matteo the ship may have steadied at the Bridge following the fiasco that surrounded the departure of Andre Villa-Boas. Two wins in their last two matches attests to this. However, certainly Napoli are the team that will enter this tie in better shape having picked up six wins in a row in all competitions. Confidence is in the high blue sky at Napoli. This could be another one of those cards Ferrario was inferring to.

While Mazzari’s men may be in a positive mood, and deservingly so, they would do well to take a hint from Milan’s near capitulation at Emirates a week ago. Leading 4-0 from the first leg, the Italian champions almost squandered a near-unassailable advantage by letting in three goals in the first half against Arsenal.

Thankfully, one of Napoli’s leading lights, Marik Hamsik, has taken note. “Milan suffered a lot in London so we must leave no stone unturned,” said the Slovak. “We must do what they did not do in their first half,  where they suffered so much. We need maximum concentration.”

Mazzari is equally aware of the need for his men to concentrate on the objective. Earlier this week he said, “We must all be alert and focused,” while adding that, “between myself and the players there is a special feeling, and my players do not underestimate tomorrow’s challenge.”

While Napoli should take a lesson from Milan’s second leg showing, they could also take one from their city rivals, Inter Milan. Overnight Inter lost out to Marseille in the final minutes of their match played at the San Siro when a complete lapse of concentration allowed Brandao to score an away goal for the French visitors. With the Brazilian’s strike went Inter’s European hopes for the season.

The lesson here to be learned is that not until the final whistle can Napoli afford to switch off. Weird and peculiar things can happen in knockout football. Momentum can sway with a team one minute, and ride against them the next. Milan’s loss in Istanbul to Liverpool in 2005 is perhaps the most telling example of this.

There are definitely some cards playing into the hands of Napoli as the club prepares for arguably its biggest match since its glory days in the late 1980’s. But, they are not all pointing in favour of the Italians. It is for this reason that success on Wednesday will be nothing short of history making. And with the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Edinson Cavani, Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi leading the way for the Azzurri, history could well be made.

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