The first leg wasn’t a blazing beacon for English football, be it Arsenal’s version of a representation of the quality of football in the Premier League, capitulating to the eldest team in a European top flight, or Chelsea’s incompetence in the absence of dethroned ex-England captain John Terry, surrendering an early 1-0 lead to lose by two.
Essentially, the so-called boring league of the Serie A dissembled England’s last two hopes of a Champions League trophy with some of the best attacking football that this year’s competition had seen. Yet, Chelsea can still progress and expectations will suitably match Andre Villas-Boas’ desire to keep his job: unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Arsenal, whose home leg will now serve no further purpose than fuelling the anti-Wenger brigade.
John Terry’s absence will undoubtedly be felt. However, since Chelsea’s Italian job, one thing has changed: before their 3-0 victory over Cahill’s former side Bolton, Chelsea were without a clean sheet in a Terry-less side so far this season, but, a Blues side with only a 27% clean sheet ratio this season, kept one without their captain last weekend.
Then, fashionable Stuart Pearce’s England, minus an injured John Terry, gave his new teammate Gary Cahill a full 90-minute run-out, which at 85’ was duly reward as he fluidly turned in the box to fire past Martin Stekelenburg. At the moment, every minute for Gary Cahill is valuable and a full match against strong opposition will serve him well. However, Chelsea’s right to be jubilant with their centre-back’s display, nearly putting England 1-0 up within the first ten minutes, may’ve been jaded by the fact that man-of-the-match Daniel Sturridge, whose constant hindrance to the Dutch back four kept England looking dangerous, despite spearhead Welbeck’s anonymity, went off injured in the closing stages.
Yet, Sturridge’s performance, only his second in an England shirt, has inspired belief that England’s strike force can be potent without Rooney, and possibly Bent, for the majority of the group stage. The news can only, itself, inspire Sturridge to continue to perform to the high standard he has all campaign in the blue of Chelsea and build on his nine Premier League goals and four assists.
In Terry’s absence, two players have rose to the occasion, domestically and internationally, and with Ashley Cole potentially benefitting from 90 minutes on the bench whilst the more youthful Chelsea duo ran themselves into the ground, their English stars may well have been the best prepared, whilst hitting the best of form, ahead of their second leg. With the ability to secure three more victories on the bounce against beatable opposition in West Brom, Birmingham and Stoke, Chelsea could go into the second leg firing on all cylinders.
The challenge is on the day and it is a challenge that can be won only by their manager.
Firstly, Chelsea go into the second leg, which in on March 14th, with an 100% record on home soil so far in the competition. Furthermore, not only were all nine points collected at Stamford Bridge, but they were collected without conceding a goal and hitting ten of their own in the process – an average of 3.33 per game, against Bayern Leverkusen, Genk and Valencia.
With such an impressive run sparked up at home in Europe, Chelsea should take full confidence into the game and it should be transcribed in their tactics, which will only be emphasized by the fact that they have to overhaul a two-goal deficit. The Blues will be fully expected to field a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation at Stamford Bridge, with two wingers off of a lone forward leading the line. As well as naturally suiting Chelsea, it, if correctly executed by Andre-Villas Boas who does have previous experience against Napoli from his time at Inter, can stifle Napoli’s attacking triumvirate by destabilising their three-man back line.
Napoli’s favoured 3-4-3 approach, with Maggio and Zuniga operating as attacking wing backs, was the perfect choice on the night of the first leg. Chelsea played into the Italian’s hands, failing to make a three-man defence advantageous to them: instead of providing Napoli with a numerical paradox at the back, by playing the 4-3-3, essentially forcing redundancy of one of Napoli’s back three – as the lone striker requires just one marker and one cover – Chelsea adopted a 4-2-3-1, which, with an aimlessly wandering Malouda, often became a 4-4-1-1.