Andre Villas-Boas faces one of the biggest matches of his managerial career as Chelsea travel to Italy to face Napoli in the first leg of the last 16 of the Champions League at the San Paolo stadium on Tuesday night.
Chelsea’s disappointing 1-1 draw Birmingham last week in the FA Cup has further increased pressure on boss Andre Villas-boas and a defeat over two legs against Napoli could be the final nail in the coffin for the Portuguese manager. The London outfit have slipped outside of the Champions League places in recent weeks to fifth in the Premier League table which has led fans and the Chelsea players to question Villas-Boas’s future at the club.
Napoli will be looking to take the scalp of another English side after they pipped Manchester City to 2nd place in group A and they look in better shape ahead of one of the biggest matches in the history of their football club. Napoli defeated Fiorentina 3-0 last Friday but they remain five points behind Lazio in the race for qualification for the Champions League next season. Napoli will be without coach Walter Mazzarri after he was handed a touchline ban for both legs after he pushed Villarreal’s Brazilian striker Nilmar in a touchline spat on Matchday six. Napoli have not lost a match at San Paolo since they returned to European competition in 2008 after a 13-year absence. The last side to record a victory in Naples was Eintracht Frankfurt, back in December 1994.
Napoli have basically a fully fit squad to pick from with only defender Hugo Campagnaro doubtful after he limped off during their win in Florence last weekend. Chelsea will have to wary of the prolific front three of Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani if they are to gain a positive result in Naples. Napoli boss Walter Mazzarri concedes Napoli “are in better shape” than Chelsea right now, but won’t consider them the favourites. “We are in better shape than Chelsea going into this game, but they have champions who are accustomed to playing a certain level of game,” Mazzarri said. “On Tuesday they know that they cannot make a mistake, so will become unified and I doubt we’ll be facing a team in crisis.”
Under-fire Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas may risk starting injury-hit captain John Terry in their Champions League tie with Napoli. Terry has been struggling with a knee injury in recent weeks and it could promise to be a big night for Gary Cahill, who could make his Champions League debut, if the former England captain fails to make it. Ashley Cole will not be travailing to Naples as he is currently sidelined with a calf muscle strain but Villas-Boas will be delighted to welcome back Michael Essien and Ramires who are available for selection. Frank Lampard started on the bench against Birmingham but is expected to return to the starting eleven against Napoli.
Villas-Boas said on Terry, “I will leave it as late as possible and make a decision on him after training in Naples, (Terry) is a great leader, gives you an extra emotional push. He’s a player of great importance.”
Napoli: De Sanctis, Britos, Cannavaro, Campagnaro, Maggio, Dzemaili, Inler, Dossena, Lavezzi, Hamsik, Cavani
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Terry, Luiz, Bosingwa, Essien, Ramires, Lampard, Mata, Torres, Sturridge