In many ways tonight’s game against Napoli, reminds me of my favourite Chelsea match. The Champions League was the tournament, Stamford Bridge the venue, Barcelona were the opposition. Coming into the game 2-1 down after the first leg in the Nou Camp, the following ninety minutes were some of the most memorable in my life. Racing to a 3-0 lead inside twenty minutes before the Ronaldinho show took over and his two goals appeared to be sending us out the tournament, one of which being the greatest goal I’ve seen at a game but with time running out, a late John Terry goal meant the comeback was complete.
Yes, the opposition is different. Yes, the deficit is greater but lessons can be learnt from that day and the hope of progression is just as great as it was then. What must be done?
Explosive start – I’m not expecting three goals inside the first twenty minutes (although I’m hoping for it), but there needs to be early attempts on goal and constant pressure when Napoli have possession. Arsenal showed just last week, what effect an early goal can have on an opposition. Napoli and more importantly their players lack the experience of playing in European knockout games, and mentally they may well falter in the face of pressure.
Atmosphere – One of the most memorable points from the Barcelona game was the atmosphere. It was nothing short of amazing. I remember because I lost my voice in the process and this may have resulted in me not going to school the next day. It doesn’t matter who you are, if 40,000 people are against you it is likely to hinder your performance. This is a Napoli team that is outside of its alleged comfort zone of the San Paolo and they will need to be reminded of it for ninety minutes and maybe even more.
Dominate the midfield – The midfield is no longer at the standards it was all those years ago, but it is still more than talented enough to impose its presence against Napoli. Success in the past started with a midfield that controlled the tempo of the game and this needs to return. Whether it be Lampard, Meireles, Mikel, Essien, Ramires or Romeu they will need to do it all. Break up play, start attacks and hopefully even finish them.
Fortify the back – The defence has come under heavy criticism this season, it is rare to see a Chelsea defence concede goals so frequently. However under Di Matteo, there have been two clean sheets, even though they have come against sub standard attacks it will no doubt instill some confidence. Napoli’s ‘three tenors’ are incredibly talented! But so were Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o. Stopping them will not be easy as many teams have discovered including Chelsea but it is necessary. Stability at the back is the key, Chelsea cannot afford to concede goals, conceding two means that we will need to score five. As poor as Napoli’s defence is, that is still a monumental ask.
Napoli are a dangerous team but they have glaring weaknesses at the back and are heavily dependent on their three star players to score and create goals. This is not to say the other players aren’t capable of playing football, Maggio and Inler are talented footballers but the Champions League is littered with nights just like this in the past, it is what makes the tournament so special. Tonight could well be another added to the list, the club as a whole will need to play its part, from managerial decisions, to player’s individual performances and finally the fans in attendance.