His troubles off the pitch have been well documented but John Terry, at 31, remains an integral part of Chelsea’s rearguard. His presence and leadership were sorely missed on Tuesday night as Napoli’s attacking trio of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik ran the Londoners ragged. It’s not news that André Villas-Boas’s side have been far from assured at the back this term – the watertight defence of the José Mourinho era is nothing more than a distant memory fading fast. But David Luiz remains a liability at centre-half and was disastrously at fault for Lavezzi’s second, when the Brazilian’s feeble attempt at a clearance bounced off Cavani, allowing the Uruguayan to tee up his Argentine team-mate to fire into an empty net. If there is to be one freeze-frame moment that sums up the Blues’ defensive troubles this season it would perhaps be the split-second Lavezzi fired home Napoli’s third: Cech stranded, the rest of the rearguard in complete disarray. The news that Terry could be out of action for four weeks or more after aggravating his troublesome knee injury is a serious blow for the Londoners.
Tuesday’s clash was a thoroughly entertaining spectacle for the neutral but the openness of the game will have had both managers’ panicking in their technical areas throughout. There were a staggering 31 attempts on goal, 15 conjured up by Chelsea, on a frenetic night in Italy as both sides side seemed intent on handing the opposition clear-cut chances by committing costly errors. There were defensive mistakes in the build-up to all four goals. Ultimately, it was Napoli’s potent attacking threat that proved the difference – but the scoreline was perhaps a tad harsh on the visitors. Of course, a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge in the return leg would see Chelsea through to the quarter-finals – but the chances of the Blues keeping a rare clean-sheet look slimmer than ever on this showing.
The Portuguese midfielder is yet to impress since his summer deadline-day move from Liverpool and Frank Lampard—Chelsea’s top goalscorer this season and a second-half substitute in Naples—can feel aggreveved to have found himself left out of the starting line-up once again. Meireles was masively at fault for Napoli’s equaliser, allowing Ezequiel Lavezzi far too much time and space before the Argentine fired past Cech. And what the 28-year-old midfielder lacked in defensive common sense was not made up for in attack either – he offered little creativity going forward and was replaced by Michael Essien after 71 minutes. Lampard was arguably more effective in his 20-minute cameo than Meireles was all night.
True, Chelsea have been below-par this term – but sacking Villas-Boas before the end of the season would simply be foolish. It’s easy to understand why the 34-year-old’s future is the subject of constant speculation – five managers have walked through the Stamford Bridge revolving door in the last five seasons. But if Roman Abramovich really wants to shake off his trigger-happy habit, he must allow the young Portuguese coach time to stamp his authority on the Blues. Villas-Boas relentlessly refers to the “three-year project” set out by he and his technical staff in west London, insisting, time and again, that the Chelsea owner is backing his plans. “I have the full confidence of the owner – that’s the message I have from him all the time,” a defiant Villas-Boas said after Tuesday’s defeat. Time will tell if Abramovic really is prepared to change his ways.
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