It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for Chelsea and their supporters, but yesterday finally gave them an occasion to celebrate, when they advanced to the Quarterfinal of the UEFA Champions League by defeating Napoli 4-1 at Stamford Bridge. The win improves manager Roberto Di Matteo’s record to 3-0 as the head of Chelsea. The win came in large part thanks to the contribution of the “Old Guard”, with goals coming from Didier Drogba, John Terry, Frank Lampard, and the winner from Branislav Ivanovic.
Chelsea came into the match looking for a 2-0 victory to recover from their 3-1 away defeat two weeks prior in Napoli. The desired scoreline looked achievable for Chelsea who came out to raucous support from the Stamford Bridge crowd. Despite the support from the crowd, Napoli looked more likely to score early in the game, but were unable to take advantage of these early opportunities. The Bridge was rewarded for their early support when in the 28th minute Didier Drogba headed a Ramires cross past De Sanctis and into the goal for the opener. It was a magnificent ball and finish, giving Chelsea a much needed early goal.
Despite suffering the early goal and having to substitute midfielder Christian Maggio due to injury, Napoli did not shy away from the game counterattacking when given an opportunity and going into halftime it looked as if Napoli could snatch a goal. Chelsea enjoyed several more opportunities in the closing moments of the first half, but timely defense contributed to good goalkeeping and Chelsea were forced to go into halftime still needing a goal to advance.
Chelsea fans did not have to wait long to see the goal they so desperately desired because after Campagnaro conceded and unnecessary corner, Chelsea was able to capitalize. John Terry put his head to the Frank Lampard corner that found the net and sent the Chelsea fans into raptures. All of Stamford Bridge was singing the praises of their recently maligned captain as he celebrated this all important Champions League goal, but the job was not done for Chelsea with 40 minutes remaining in the second half.
Napoli’s pace and fervor really picked up after the second goal, because they responded by attacking with a fury. Several attempts were blocked by the Chelsea defense and the Blues were forced to defend the waves of Napoli attackers. Napoli was awarded a corner and free kick, but Ezequiel Lavezzi was largely wasteful during his set piece attempts. Their attack continued when substitute Dossena sent a cross that was headed out of the box by John Terry, but the ball fell to Gokhan Inler who expertly chested the ball down and struck a volley that swerved through the legs of Frank Lampard and into the back of the net.
Napoli’s goal meant that the Italian club would advance if Chelsea was unable to score, so while goal celebrations took place, Di Matteo and Chelsea were busy plotting their way back. Nine minutes after Napoli’s “go-ahead” goal, Di Matteo brought on Fernando Torres for Daniel Sturridge. Torres had not scored in his previous 25 matches for club and country and nearly all of Stamford Bridge was hoping that would change tonight.
Ten minutes after Torres’ entrance, Chelsea earned a series of corners that concluded in a Branislav Ivanovic header that met the arm of Andrea Dossena, the referee pointed to the spot and awarded the penalty. Frank Lampard confidently strode to the penalty spot and crushed a penalty down the left side and gave Chelsea the equalizing goal they needed to send the game to extra time.
Rather than play for extra time, both sides decided the final fifteen minutes of the match would be played at a feverish pace. Chelsea was led by some skillful movement and trickery from Fernando Torres, while Didier Drogba was a nightmare for the Napoli defense, earning a free kick and having a couple shouts for a penalty turned away by the referee. Despite both teams efforts the game was headed to extra time.
After taking the ball to begin the first extra time period, Napoli pressed in on goal, having their attempts fall just short thanks to perfectly timed defending and inaccurate shooting. During these Napoli attacks Chelsea responded by making two substitutions to account for tired legs, bringing on Florent Malouda and Jose Bosingwa for Juan Mata and John Terry respectively. Ivanovic was moved to the center back spot to relieve the departing Terry, while Torres continued to lead the charge for the Blues.
Didier Drogba earned a free kick just outside the penalty area in the 104th minute, which set the stage for Frank Lampards free kick that was headed clear by Marek Hamsik. The clearance fell to Drogba who squared the ball across the box to the waiting Ivanovic who lifted the ball into the back of the net. The goal eased all the tension felt in Stamford Bridge and sent it into celebration as the first half extra time whistle blew.
As the second half of extra time started the Bridge settled back in for the final fifteen minutes that would decide their team’s fate. Napoli made their second substitution of the day when Goran Pandev entered the match for Marek Hamsik. Chelsea continued to play aggressively, challenging Napoli who was forced to gamble when they took off one of just three defenders Salvatore Aronica for another forward Eduardo Vargas.
As the seconds ticked closer to the final whistle, Chelsea began to use time wasting tactics and some particularly distasteful gamesmanship came from Didier Drogba. Drogba did his best Sergio Busquets impression when he pretended to be hit in the face by Paolo Cannavarro, who was booked for the “offense.” Chelsea’s time wasting continued and despite the best efforts of Ramires and Torres, Chelsea was unable to find another goal. David Luiz was particularly heroic down the stretch over coming leg cramps to head clear Napoli’s final attacking threat.
At the final whistle, interim manager Roberto Di Matteo ran onto the field to celebrate with his team, enthusiastically embracing Drogba and Torres who were both crucial parts of their team’s win. The post-match comments centered around Chelsea’s belief in the team and their ability to put on a great performance in the face of adversity.
The game marked a rare occasion in which Chelsea was able to rally from behind to achieve the result they needed, and it has many pundits questioning the conventional wisdom surrounding the departure of Andres Villas-Boas. Was AVB wrong to challenge the “Old Guard?” Where were these performances during AVB’s tenure? Can this current squad continue winning under Di Matteo? Does this victory mean Terry, Lampard, and Drogba will stay at Chelsea? Will Di Matteo permanently take over the role as manager? Chelsea moves on to the quarterfinals, who they will face is still a mystery, but one that will be solved after Friday’s draw, the rest of the questions will have to wait a little longer for answers.
Full match highlights here:http://www.101greatgoals.com/gvideos/chelsea-4-napoli-1-longer-highlights/
The beautiful robot Branislav Ivanovic gets the background today.
One last note for today: Terrible news from Barcelona who have announced that Eric Abidal will undergo a liver transplant as part of his ongoing treatment. Last year Abidal underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his liver and a transplant was always seen as a treatment option. I wish him all the best and a speedy recovery.