Chelsea rewind: 4 – 1 win over Napoli in 2012 UCL echoes through today

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 14: Frank Lampard of Chelsealooks at the Napoli fans during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg match between Chelsea FC and SSC Napoli at Stamford Bridge on March 14, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 14: Frank Lampard of Chelsealooks at the Napoli fans during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg match between Chelsea FC and SSC Napoli at Stamford Bridge on March 14, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) /

Chelsea did not wait until Barcelona or Munich for heroics en route to the 2012 Champions League title. The second leg against Napoli at home should never be forgotten in the bigger sweep of that season.

When Chelsea fans think about the year 2012, they think about the Champions League and FA Cup doublea. And when you ask them about the matches which defined that Champions League campaign, they talk about the nullification of one of the greatest teams of the millennium or the giant-slaying of Bayern Munich in their own fortress.

But all that hullabaloo obscures an unfairly forgotten game on the road to the Allianz Arena. Chelsea’s 4 – 1 victory over Napoli is the middle child of the big family of that season’s campaign.

In the build-up to the second leg, Chelsea were in turmoil having sacked Andre Villas-Boas (who, by the way, is having a brilliant career renaissance at Marseille) nine days earlier after a undesirable result against West Bromwich Albion. Roberto Di Matteo was handed temporary charge until the end of the season and was in the midst of a new manager bounce, having won an FA Cup game against Birmingham and a Premier League against Stoke.

Meanwhile, Napoli were on a hot run of form, having won their last six in all competitions, including a 3-1 first leg home win against Chelsea. They had the fluid front three of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik in great form scoring goals galore.

Chelsea were having a wretched season up to that point, with Villas-Boas managing to get on the wrong side of the majority of the senior players.

He hit his nadir when he dropped Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole from the starting XI for the first leg against Napoli. That showed with Chelsea collapsing to defeat despite taking the lead. The lack of experience shone through as the defense made a hash of schoolboy errors, which was encapsulated with Napoli’s third goal. Chelsea had Petr Cech to thank for keeping the scoreline low and to give them a chance at home.

In the aftermath of this defeat, Villas-Boas was questioned by the technical director on his team selection in the night.

For the second leg, Chelsea lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Di Matteo made four changes from the first leg with John Terry, Cole, Lampard and Essien coming in for Gary Cahill, Jose Bosingwa, Florent Malouda and Raul Meireles, respectively.

Essien and Lampard formed the double pivot, with Ramires and Daniel Sturridge monitoring the flanks and Juan Mata the No. 10.

Napoli made no changes and lined up in their customary 3-4-3 under Walter Mazzarri. Napoli set up to absorb pressure and hit Chelsea on the break, with the Blues looking to ramp up pressure and pepper the Napoli goal.

Napoli started the game brighter, spurning two good chances to put the tie to bed. They also peppered Cech’s goal from distance. But Chelsea took the lead against the run of play in the 28′, with Didier Drogba taking a beautiful diving header to a dinked Ramires ball. This goal released the pressure on Chelsea and allowed them to attack with ease, and they finished the half the stronger.

Two minutes into the start of the second half, Terry scored the second goal of the game, a beautiful header off a great corner by Mata. This equalised the tie, meaning Chelsea would go through in away goals. But that was not to be, as Gokhan Inler scored the goal of the game and potentially even the tie, when he controlled a botched clearance by Terry, and smashed it in from distance in the 55′.

Napoli now had the away goal they needed, while Chelsea needed a goal to take the game to extra time and two to win it outright.

Chelsea applied more pressure on Napoli, and that paid off in the 74′ when Andrea Dossena bafflingly handled an innocuous ball into the box. Up stepped Lampard to score from the spot, and the tie was all square.

The game descended into chaos with both teams going on all out attacks to strike the final blow and put the game to bed. Chelsea needed to be extra careful as another away goal for Napoli late on would hand them the tie.

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The game went to extra time. Chelsea dominated the first half of extra time and that dominance climaxed when Branislav Ivanovic converted from short range after a beautiful piece of work from Drogba in the 105′. The second half of extra time didn’t see much action as Chelsea played defensively close out the game.

The old guard truly created this victory and came to the fore. The circumstances surrounding this game – Andre Villas-Boas looking to phase out the senior members – added to the narrative. Villas-Boas totally mishandled the situation.

Understanding this game sets the contrast with how well Frank Lampard has handled the senior players in his team well. In recent weeks, that man-management has come to the fore with Willian, Olivier Giroud, Pedro putting in great performances, notable for how little the latter two had played in the first half of the season.

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