Chelsea’s season hangs in the balance, with their title chances over and a real chance that they could finish outside of the top four. A 1-1 home draw with Birmingham in the FA Cup on Saturday failed to inspire confidence, and they will need to improve markedly to avoid defeat in Naples.
With Didier Drogba supposedly giving his team-mates a half-time team talk at the weekend, the media have been quick to indicate that this further ostracises already under-fire boss Andre Villas Boas. The Portuguese trainer has been backed by Roman Abramovich to succeed, but the pressure that the ex-Porto trainer is under will increase if they do not make the next stage of the Champions League.
John Terry is rated as 50-50 to play, as he tries to recover from injury in time for the game. Whether the England international plays or not, Chelsea will need to be very organised at the back, as they face one of the sharpest strikeforces in Europe. Terry’s inclusion would be a massive bonus, if not then David Luiz and Gary Cahill must be at their best.
Napoli dispatched of Manchester City in the last round, and came through the ‘group of death’ unscathed; the Serie A side’s confidence is high. In Edinson Cavani the hosts have one of the in-form hitmen in world football, and the Uruguay international will be out to fire his side into the quarter finals. Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik will support the South American talisman, in what should be a busy evening for the Blues backline. Although Napoli are not doing especially well in Serie A (they are sixth), they did beat Fiorentina 3-0 away from home on Friday night.
For Chelsea it will be a matter of weathering an early storm and trying to silence a passionate San Paolo faithful. If the English side can escape from the fixture still in contention they have every chance of progressing by winning at home.
Villas Boas has an important decision to make in attack also, as Drogba has returned from the African Cup of Nations. With Fernando Torres out of form and ideas, it is likely that the Ivory Coast veteran will be reinstated into the visitors’ attack.
All in all it should be an interesting and exciting game, with the hopes of English football resting on Villas Boas’ men; with Arsenal all but out Chelsea are the country’s only realistic representative left in the tournament.
By Gareth McKnight