Chelsea’s hopes of overturning a 3-1 deficit from Naples were always going to rest on Didier Drogba with Fernando Torres still misfiring. The 33-year-old wasn’t at his liveliest, but fresh from his 100th Premier League goal in the Blues’ 1-0 victory over Stoke City on Saturday, he continued his prolific form by scoring against Napoli. The Ivory Coast striker brushed aside the attentions of Salvatore Aronica and thumped an emphatic header past Morgan De Sanctis. Drogba continued to cause problems after the interval – his nimble swivel and first-time shot drew a wonderful full-strech save from De Sanctis. He will need to replicate this type of display if Chelsea are to progress further in the competition.
Chelsea’s stirring performance was reminiscent of the Blues side which used to dominate the English top flight alongside Manchester United. John Terry’s return from injury provided a welcome boost, while Drogba and Frank Lampard came to their captain’s aid as Chelsea’s big three scored the goals to send the tie into extra-time, before Branislav Ivanovic netted the winner. The London outfit displayed plenty of heart and desire, two elements missing during the lowest points of André Villas-Boas’ reign. On Tuesday, Terry was quick to dismiss accusations that ‘player power’ led to his former manager’s eventual dismissal. But the Chelsea skipper’s influence on and off the pitch was evident on a special European night at Stamford Bridge, even appearing to conduct proceedings from the technical area after being substituted.
Much was made of Napoli’s unstoppable attacking trio of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik before Wednesday night’s tie. And while Walter Mazzarri’s side have been an entertaining addition to the Champions League, defensively they have struggled – particularly when it comes to set-pieces. Chelsea ruthlessly exploited Napoli’s aerial weakness in west London. Drogba muscled Aronica out of the way for the Blues’ first, and Terry escaped his marker to put the home side two up. Should Napoli make an immediate return to Europe’s elite club competition next term, Mazzarri will have no choice but to bolster his defence.
Michael Essien continues his comeback from a serious knee injury, but the Ghanian midfielder is struggling to cope with the demands of the Chelsea engine room. The 28-year-old was such a powerful force in José Mourinho’s double winning team in 2006, and his influence during this golden spell was perhaps only eclipsed by captain Terry. Once considered amongst the best midfielders in Europe, Essien toiled against Napoli’s nimble midfielders. The cunning Marek Hamsik crept into space, escaping the attentions of Essien, and the Slovakian was able to orchestrate Napoli’s sporadic attacks. The former Lyon man was the weak link in Chelsea’s midfield, and his career at Stamford Bridge could be coming to a premature end.
A reported target for Manchester United, Hamsik sparkled in the Napoli’s midfield as Cavani and Lavezzi struggled to unlock a rigid Chelsea defence. The Slovakian midfielder was assured in possession, showcased his ability to find an incisive pass – and also displayed a defensive side to his game, tracking back and making some vital interventions. Reports suggest Sir Alex Ferguson is still eyeing Internazionale’s Wesley Sneijder as a replacement for Paul Scholes but Hamsik, just 24, would be a more long-term and economical option.
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