Game Date/Time: Wednesday, March 14th, 19:45 GMT / 3:45pm EDT
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
TV: ITV 1 (UK), FOX Soccer (USA)
As the right back breaks up the field, there he is, Frank Lampard, starting his trademarked, well-timed run through the middle of park. He does not stop or slow down, even as the opposition collapses towards their own penalty box, still protecting a lead on aggregate in this Champions League matchup. They started with a 3-1 advantage, but Chelsea have already whittled that down to 3-2 and we're still in just the first half!
As the right back sends a pass to the secondary/linking forward (dropping deep as the primary forward occupies a couple defenders), Lampard accelerates towards goal. With a simple, deft touch of his right boot, the forward flicks the ball into Lampard's path, who blasts a glorious shot past the helpless goalkeeper from 12 yards out.
And the crowd goes wild! Chelsea have done it! Now leading 2-0 on the night, they have overturned the first leg deficit to take the lead on away goals in the aggregate as well! Unbelievable!
Is this real life or is this just fantasy? Find out after the jump...
Well, 8 years ago on a Wednesday night not unlike tomorrow, Chelsea & Frank Lampard did just that...except the stakes were even higher. Having gone down in flames in Monaco in the 1st leg of the Semifinals, Chelsea were facing the improbable task of having to overturn the 3-1 deficit at Stamford Bridge. At stake were not only a place in the Finals but Claudio Ranieri's job as well.
And for a few brief, glorious, amazing, stupendous minutes at the end of that first half, it looked like the impossible had been achieved thanks to the beautifully worked combination by Mario Melchiot, Eidur Gudjohnsen, and Super Frank. Chelsea had dominated the match and spirits were high. It looked like another chapter in the Year of the Champions League Comebacks was ready to be written (Deportivo La Coruna, anyone?).
Alas, there was to be no fairy tale ending. Hugo Ibarra handballed in a goal to pull one back for Monaco in first half added time, before the assassin-for-loan Fernando Morientes finished it off in the second half. 2-2 on the night and Chelsea were out. Monaco were then brushed aside easily in the Final by Porto, whose brash young manager then brushed aside Ranieri for the Chelsea job.
Only two players who played for Chelsea that day remain on the roster. I think you may have heard them: John Terry & Frank Lampard. We will need all their resolve, experience, and inspiration if we're to successfully overturn a 3-1 deficit this time...
Both teams are essentially at full strength, which means that we will see that deadly, dangerous Napoli attacking trident once again. While most of us are familiar with the way they play, a refresher from Graham's preview for the first leg may be helpful. It's certainly worth a (re-)read just to level-set your expectations in case you are even remotely entertaining ideas of underestimating them.
To add to all that, Napoli are going through arguably their best spell of the season. Since our match-up at the San Paolo, they have notched one-goal wins over Inter & Parma before obliterating poor Cagliari 6-3 over the weekend. It was their sixth straight win in all competitions. Despite a poor start, they've climbed back into the top end of the league table: currently sitting 4th, just 2 points behind Lazio. As one of the most in-form teams in Europe, they will be brimming with confidence even in a hostile environment.
Roberto Di Matteo talks a good game and has been saying all the right things. We're confident; we're excited. The two wins in a row have certainly helped team morale. The fact that both scapegoats from the first leg will be missing in action as well should help the fans' morale (AVB - sacked; Raul Meireles - suspended).
Despite the result, Chelsea in the 4-2-3-1 were not hapless in Naples. Both teams had plenty of chances and we even bossed the game for a good period in the second half. Two of the goals we conceded came from clear individual errors, not necessarily from poor overall play. The plan outlined in Graham's preview is still our best hope.
What certainly does need fixing from the first leg is the midfield pivot. Meireles is suspended (small miracles!) so he's certainly out. Ramires had a terrible game in the middle and seeing how useful he's been on the right wing, I would love to see him line up out there instead. That would leave four candidates for two spots with Mikel being the most in-form of the lot, putting in man-of-the-match performances in both of Di Matteo's matches. Seemingly forgotten but certainly not gone, Oriol Romeu might still be in with a shout...but Di Matteo should strike the iron while it's hot and keep Mikel's hot streak going. The Nigerian's defensive nous should also allow him to be paired with either Michael Essien or Frank Lampard. RDM's choice will certainly be interesting here - I would pick Essien, but then I have the luxury of not having to face Super Frank in the dressing room.
Di Matteo has a few tough choices to make for the forward lines as well...although with Daniel Sturridge & Fernando Torres seemingly just competiting for Misses of the Season, Didier Drogba should once again lead the line. Assuming that the aforementioned Ramires gets to stretch his legs on the right wing, then Mata slots in the hole behind Drogba (and hope to recreate their interplay from the weekend), and Kalou gets another start on the left wing.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech - A.Cole, Terry, Luiz, Ivan - Mikel, Essien - Kalou, Mata, Ramires - Drogba
Chelsea need goals, so let's get up & at 'em. The task is not impossible. Here's to dreaming about an early goal and an historic night!