Champions League - Chelsea lose in Naples
Tue, 21 Feb 21:41:00 2012
Chelsea will have to overturn a two-goal deficit if they are to reach the Champions League quarter-finals after they lost the first leg of their last-16 tie with Napoli 3-1 at the Stadio San Paolo.
The two then combined in the second half for Lavezzi to score his second of the match and Napoli's third which gives them a significant aggregate lead to take with them to Stamford Bridge for next month's second leg.
Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas inadvertently caused a stir in the build-up to the match by leaving his team sheet at the hotel. It revealed that Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard were left on the bench, while fellow stalwart and captain John Terry was also omitted as it was confirmed he will miss the next two months through injury.
The Chelsea back line – with David Luiz and Gary Cahill in the centre and Jose Bosingwa on the left – looked unsteady in the opening stages, and they would have been behind earlier were it not for goalkeeper Petr Cech.
The Czech keeper became the first to save a shot on target from Cavani in this season's competition when he parried the Uruguayan's low shot after nine minutes, having been played into acres of space down the right with Branislav Ivanovic out of position.
By contrast, Napoli keeper Morgan De Sanctis was left all at sea as he came out to claim a long punt forward from Cech. Florent Malouda beat him to the punch but defender Hugo Campagnaro – whose head was heavily bandaged following an earlier collision with a Chelsea player - was on hand to cover.
After all the pre-match fuss about Cole's place among the substitutes, his rare taste of life on the bench lasted all of nine minutes before he was called upon to replace the injured Bosingwa.
Cole was not given time to settle into a breathless first half, and on 19 minutes he was left for dead by the overlapping Christian Maggio, who was denied by a fingertip save from Cech.
However Napoli, whose manager Walter Mazzarri was confined to the stands by UEFA, had themselves looked uncertain at times defensively and an error at the back led to Chelsea's opener. Paolo Cannavaro attempted to clear Daniel Sturridge's low cross but could only slice it into the air, and it dropped perfectly for Mata to slot home his ninth goal in Chelsea colours.
On 37 minutes De Sanctis was again caught in no man's land at a corner but David Luiz could only head over the bar, and moments later Napoli were level. Cavani squared the ball to Lavezzi, who turned past Raul Meireles with ease before bending a fine finish around Cech's outstretched arm and into the net.
Such was the open nature of the game that soon afterwards Ramires was allowed to practically waltz through the Napoli back line, but could only hit his strike high, and Napoli made him and Chelsea pay for that miss in first-half injury time. Gokhan Inler put in a fine cross from deep on the right that Ivanovic let bounce between him and Cech, and Cavani was on hand to pounce and nudge the ball home with his shoulder for his fifth goal of the competition.
Neither side took the opportunity of the half-time break to solidify their defence and the restart heralded what at times resembled a basketball match more than a Champions League knockout fixture.
Lavezzi fired wide after Cavani played him into the space which the ball-watching Cahill should have been occupying, before Didier Drogba almost powered his way through two defenders only to be tackled at the vital moment.
Mid way through the half, David Luiz took his turn to commit a costly error when he made a hash of intercepting a long ball forward from Campagnaro. Cavani took advantage of the Brazilian's weak effort and laid the ball on a plate for Lavezzi to score his second ever Champions League goal.
Villas-Boas called for the old guard, bringing on Lampard and Michael Essien with 20 minutes remaining, but they were not able to reduce the arrears.
Instead, Cole had to prevent the Blues from going further behind in the tie when he made a heroic block on the line to deny Maggio with nine minutes of the match remaining.
Following Arsenal's 4-0 defeat at AC Milan last week, it was another miserable night for an English side in Italy, although Chelsea will fancy their chances of staging a comebacks far more than their London rivals.