In what was Roberto di Matteo’s third game in charge as interim boss following Andre Villas-Boas being relieved of his duties, he needed his team to step up. Having won both his previous games, there was a massive boost in the morale around the club. Rejuvenated Chelsea faced an uphill task against Napoli, who headed to London with a two goal cushion. The hosts’ beacon of salvation was their away goal, courtesy of Juan Mata. They knew what they had to do- and after taking a stand against Abramovic about Villas-Boas’ poor tactics, the players had to show their worth.
Roberto di Matteo might not have the longest curriculum vitae in the managerial world, but he knew the basics. Play the best players, and they will do their job on the pitch. This was displayed in his choice of line-up, with Terry, Cole and Lampard returning to the starting XI. Our players were finally free from the erratic decisions of the former manager. The visitors did not show any change in their system which won them the reverse fixture. Walter Mazzari was back on the side-lines, and he decided to start the deadly trio of Edison Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik, who caused us several problems in Naples.
Soon, it was time for kick-off, and with the fans firmly in their seats waving the blue flags, the referee decided to commence the proceedings for the night. As Stamford Bridge roared in the mixture of the home chants and vociferous away support, the atmosphere could only aptly be described by one word- intense. Chelsea begun the match aggressively, and nearly scored very early into the game as opposition keeper De Sanctis brilliantly saved a fine strike from Daniel Sturridge. But, as the game wore on, Napoli settled into the setting, and were by far the superior side for around 25 minutes. Petr Cech was required to be at his best, which he undoubtedly was. He did well to save Hamsik’s shot with his feet, which was deflected. He popped out his legs once again to deny Lavezzi, after Cavani had missed the goal on a couple of occasions. Firmly in the driving seat, it was looking a case of when and not if Napoli score, and if they did, the uphill task would have only seemed steeper.
The outlook on the match suddenly changed when Ramires, who started on the wing, picked out Drogba with a cross, and the Ivory Coast striker brilliantly placed his diving header away from the opposition goalkeeper. When you need a goal in a big game, you already know he’s scoring. The nervy feeling around the stadium turned into elation, as Chelsea needed just one more goal to advance to the quarter-finals, and had roughly sixty more minutes to get it. It seemed like they would get it within the next 100 seconds though- as Campagnaro got the slightest of touches to deny Drogba his second goal in as many minutes. After some good work by Sturridge, it looked like all the African striker had to do was tap it into an open net, but the defender got a crucial touch to prevent him from doing so.
On the other end, Cavani wasted a brilliant opportunity to make the game level on the counter as he dragged his shot wide from a situation where the attackers outnumbered the defensive players. Barring this one error, Chelsea were firmly on the front foot, testing the keeper on several occasions. After Campagnaro’s heroics earlier in the game (to keep it a one goal difference), his defensive partners Cannavaro and Aronica got in on the action, putting their bodies on the line to prevent Chelsea from getting the second. This worked until the end of the first half, as it ended 1-0.
The Chelsea faithful were in full voice as their team picked up where they left off, determined to get the second goal. And soon, the wait was over, as captain, leader, legend John Terry nodded the ball into the net from a corner. The fans were overjoyed, and Stamford Bridge was rocking. The comeback was complete. Or was it?
This feeling of joy lasted for exactly seven minutes. Despite Chelsea in a position to go through as things stood, they were in search of a third to kill the game. This cost them dearly, as Inler unleashed a spectacular half volley into the corner of the net, beyond Petr Cech. The Czech’s goal was finally breached, and Chelsea now requiring two to qualify. Despite this setback, the team were determined to win this tie, and the fans continued to up the player’s sprits. They had begun the night in need of a performance, and they were not about to give up now, especially with 35 minutes still on the clock.
Roberto di Matteo also decided to risk it all, opting to bring on another striker in the form of Fernando Torres. It was the striker on the pitch causing all the problems though- Drogba once again forcing De Sanctis into a stunning save. Despite his performance, it wasn’t meant to be for the goalkeeper, as his task just became a whole lot harder when Chelsea were awarded a penalty for a blatant hand ball in the box by Dossena. Up stepped Super Frank Lampard, whose name echoed all across West London, and he made no mistake from the spot, choosing to hit the ball straight as De Sanctis picked a side. 3-1, and as it stood, the game was headed into extra-time, with just 15 minutes left for either team to seal qualification.
Extra time was what we got, as neither teams could fully capitalise on the half chances they found thrown their way. Roberto di Matteo then chose to go all in, as he brought on Malouda and Bosingwa for Mata and Terry. Though the game went on evenly, the home side seemed to be just a tad more determined to get through to the next round. And it nearly paid off when Torres seemed to have an open net in front of him, but somehow managed to shoot it wide, albeit it being a tight angle. It seemed like penalties was the only way to pick a winner from these two evenly matched sides, with half time of extra time approaching.
Just as the clock struck 105, so did our right back Ivanovic. The Serb was absolutely incredible throughout the game, darting forward to provide an option in attack, whipping in crosses, and also tracking back when required. He capped this game off as one of the best of his career, by smashing the ball into the back of the net from the edge of the box. 4-1, and now Chelsea looked comfortable, as the referee blew his whistle for half time.
15 anxious minutes was all that stood between a quarter final draw and Chelsea. Drogba nearly added a fifth, which would ensure qualification, but as it stood, Napoli were still in the game, as one goal would send them through on away goals. Walter Mazzari turned to Pandev to come on and get the decisive goal, but all his efforts were in vain as the game ended 4-1 to Chelsea, who advanced to the quarter finals. One of the most scintillating games of the season, Chelsea managed to edge past the tricky Italian side, 5-4 on aggregate over three and a half hours of footballing action.
Next in line waited Portuguese side Benfica. Tune in to next week’s article to find out how we fared against them. Till then, remember to stay inside and stay safe!