After Chelsea took a 1-0 lead on the road in Naples thing were looking pretty rosy for Chelsea fans. Three Napoli goals later and the club was in a mini-crisis and looking at another earlier than expected exit from the Champions League. Since that game, AVB was relieved of duty and Chelsea have gone on to win their first two games under interim manager Roberto Di Matteo. Still, after a pair of narrow victories most Chelsea fans weren't expecting much from this tie. Boy were they wrong...
Down 3-1 we needed to score at least two goals, and goal scoring has been a bit tough to come by lately. We also needed to defend, as having only 1 away goal we'd be in a tough spot if they scored at all. We were going to have to attack Napoli fairly hard, and we all saw what happened 2 weeks ago when we did that. There might not have been a worse club in Europe to be forced to attack as Napoli just demolish their opposition on the counter.
Roberto Di Matteo turned a few heads with his squad selection today. We seemed to be alternating between a 4-4-1-1 and a 4-2-3-1 for much of the early going. Ramires was positioned wide on the left, Danny Sturridge on the right, and Jaun Mata played ahead of the central pairing of Michael Essien and Frank Lampard in support of Didier Drogba. Ramires on the left was a new one, but it certainly did a nice job of moving Mata centrally while allowing our best 11 players (despite Ashley Cole's recent form) to be on the pitch.
We looked to be pushing hard from the opening whistle, as Frank Lampard set the tone for the high pressure Chelsea attack with a hard early tackle. Chelsea dominated possession early, but it was more of a probing attack than anything else. Sturridge forced an early save on a weak shot and we had several headed balls sail comfotably wide, but it did appear we'd be able to create a few chances if we could manage to convert them. As always, the worry was what Napoli were going to do if they nipped possession off of us.
At about the ten minute mark Napoli started to look fairly dangerous on the counter. All of the attacking trio of Hamsik, Lavezzi, and Cavani had decent chances on goal. Cech stopped the two that were put on target though, and Chelsea were still controlling the bulk of the possession. Worse for Napoli, Didier Drogba was starting to cause the Napoli defense some real problems with his runs to the post and physical play. Napoli survived a few scares when they managed to twice clear the ball in front of brilliant Drogba runs, but there were real cracks showing in the defense. Minutes later, we'd take advantage.
Around the half hour mark, Ramires was allowed far to much space as he took the ball on the left side. Didier Drogba made a beautiful diagonal run to the near post, shielding the defender from having any play on the ball. Ramires took a dribble to the center and let fly a perfect ball which Drogba brilliantly headed into the bottom corner. Just like that, Chelsea were up 1-0 with 60 minutes to play. Napoli now either had to keep us off the board for the next hour or find the net themselves.
Chelsea kept piling the pressure on. Within five minutes Napoli had to again make a last ditch clearance to keep Drogba from connecting with a cross. Danny Sturridge and Branislav Ivanovic both saw headers go wide of the mark as the half approached, and Chelsea would go into the half leading 1-0. While we certainly had work to do, it was looking like one of those nights where we could actually make it happen.
It didn't take long to get our second as the half got underway. Within a minute, Napoli carelessly conceded a corner to Chelsea. Frank Lampard then delivered a beautiful corner, and as Didier Drogba pulled away all of the defenders on the near post John Terry was left with a simple header which he buried. Chelsea were up 2-0, and if things ended that way they'd be advancing to the quarterfinals.
Napoli were well aware of the situation, and for the next ten minutes Napoli would look as dangerous as they did all game. Napoli dominated possession for that spell, and on 55 minutes were rewarded with a brilliant Inler volley. It's hard to fault anyone for the goal, it was more a moment of brilliance than any sort of error. Still, Chelsea were now down 4-3 on aggregate and now needed to score again just to force extra time. Back to defending and waiting to counter for Napoli.
Di Matteo sensed the urgency to score and introduced Fernando Torres for Danny Sturridge. Torres would lookk mostly useful on the night, and Sturridge hadn't been at his best in this one. Chelsea would again dominate the possession, and the Napoli keeper was tested by Drogba, Ivanovic, and Drogba again. It was starting to look to be more a question of "when" rather than "if" Chelsea would add a third. "When" would come very shortly.
With just over 15 minutes to play in regular time, Branislav Ivanovic would head the ball at the net. The ball struck the outstretched arm of Dossena and Chelsea were awarded a fairly cut and dried penalty. Frank Lampard stepped up and buried the penalty and Chelsea had reversed the Naples scoreline. Fifteen minutes of attacking later and Chelsea would be heading to extra time. Due to the away goal rule, Chelsea had to outscore Napoli if they wanted to win it in stoppage time. A scoreless half hour would mean penalties.
Extra time would get underway with yet more attacking from Chelsea. Brani again headed wide as Drogba again pulled the entire defense away on a corner. Marek Hamsik then had a chance to put Napoli ahead as he just missed a ridiculous volley attempt. Mata would come off for Malouda and Bosingwa would replace the banged up John Terry, and Chelsea would continue to press forward.
Ramires would start the winner on the far right, creating space enough to feed a ball into the 18 yard box for Drogba. Didier would the do the ridiculous, threading a perfect pass to center back Branislav Ivanovic to bury in the top of the net. Chelsea led 4-1 on the night and Stamford Bridge was registering as an earthquake. That was it for the first 15, Chelsea now just needed to hold on to the lead to do the unthinkable.
The next 15 minutes would be less nervous than we all thought. Napoli pressed, but Chelsea had several opportunities to counter and still looked the more likely to score. We'd see out the last 15 minutes fairly comfortably, and all of a sudden hope was restored to the Bridge. Chelsea were through to the quarters, and all is right in the world again.
While we should all take some time and just enjoy what we saw today, Chelsea will have a big day on Friday. The draw for the remainder of the Champions League will be happening, as will the first leg of our Youth Cup semifinal against Manchester United. The remaining teams in the competition include APOEL, Marseille, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Benfica, and Bayern Munich. Cross your fingers and hope that Bayern, Barca, AC Milan, and Real all end up drawn on the other side of the bracket, as the brackets become set for the remainder of the tournament with this draw. Job well done boys, I'm as excited tonight as I've been all year.