'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor I met a girl so fair.
Or, you know, where we met a young Portuguese manager on the cusp of receiving the sharp end of Roman's gold-encrusted hatchet. This was, well, not good. Not good at all.
We've been putting off writing a recap of this match for a couple of reasons, the first being that Devin and I simply are lacking in inspiration these days. It's not easy continually updating a blog when you receive no pay and have responsibilities - i.e. full-time jobs - to tend to. We apologize, but it is what is.
The second reason is obviously attached to the game itself. It was another slice of disappointment in a season that has featured deep dish after deep dish of it. Another shit sandwich of a performance combined with a lack of inspiration results in a days-old recap of the bullet point variety.
Yeah, it's going to be quick and, yeah, it's going to be painful. At least there were traces of positives to be found in Naples on Tuesday night. I guess.
• Raul Meireles. What the hell has happened to this guy? I mean, nobody is performing anywhere near their potential but Meireles has seen his form dip beyond belief over the past two months. This after beginning the season as a nice, versatile option in midfield. Now, he just offers up nothing. Actually, he's been a detriment to the side in recent matches - none more glaring than Tuesday. He refused to get stuck into a tackle and was solely at fault for Napoli's equalizer through Ezequiel Lavezzi. He had no influence in the middle of the park as our midfield produced a truly shameful display. The fact that Andre Villas-Boas continues to pick his fellow countryman may be more of an indictment of the manager's recent failings than anything else. The only positive out of this is that Raul is unavailable for the return leg via suspension. THANK GOD.
• Tactically, I don't think Andre got it entirely wrong. There was a lot to be said about his team selection prior to kickoff, and justifiably so after seeing how our midfield in particular performed. However, it wasn't like we didn't have good spells of play and didn't have opportunities to score goals. And yes I meant goals as in plural. Petr Cech may have kept things level early, but our start wasn't bad at all, with some really good possession-based buildup play. Then there was the 20 or so minutes at the start of the second half, a spell in which we were absolutely all over the hosts. I was almost certain we were going to grab a second at some point. Of course that didn't happen, which is more a statement of the bluntness of our attacking personnel than the tactics employed. Paging Didier Drogba.
• That being said, Andre did get a lot wrong. Employing the axis of Raul and Ramires in the deep-lying midfield roles was a gamble that was never going to pay off. While Ramires has experience as a holding midfielder, that experience is limited at best. Raul may be able to play there, too, but he needs a truly combative type alongside him to mask all of his deficiencies. One of John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien or Oriol Romeu should've been involved, no question. Speaking of Romeu, what has happened to the kid? He's vanished.
• Speaking of goals. All three of Napoli's goals were entirely preventable. What is it with Chelsea and individual cock-ups this season? Raul shits the bed for their opener, Branislav Ivanovic goes missing on their second and David Luiz has a moment of madness/misfortune for their third. Inexcusable.
• That being said, our defense never looked likely to keep a clean sheet. When was the last time you saw a CL game that open? Unbelievable really. Napoli could have added a fourth or fifth goal if not for some errant finishing from Lavezzi and a goal-line clearance from Ashley Cole. When our fullbacks push forward - which was the case for much of the second half - we look ridiculously vulnerable.
• Overlooking Raul's all-around egregiousness (which is difficult to do I admit), Ramires was poor as well. I'm going to simply chalk it up as him not being fully fit yet seeing as he's been our best midfielder this season. All this talk of him being pants is just that, talk - dumbass talk.
• This tie isn't over. It may seem like we'll never keep a clean sheet at home, but I refuse to believe we can't score - and score often - against this side. Napoli's defense may not have been as poor as ours in Naples, but they are poor nonetheless. And the thing is we have the ability to improve drastically at the back; I really think they just don't have good personnel in defense. A 3-1 defeat, for me, didn't really reflect the play on the day, either; perhaps 2-1 would have been a fair representation considering the patches of dominance we enjoyed. Nevertheless, we were dealt a bad hand but not one we can't overturn. A 2-0 win at home and we're through. That certainly doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility. Quite the opposite actually. I don't want to sound confident, because I'm not, but I don't think it would be wise for anyone to go ahead and write us off.
That's all I got. Thoughts, feelings, grievances - leave them in the comments section.