Napoli provided a master class in clinical finishing as they overwhelmed Chelsea in a helter-skelter Champions League last 16 tie at the Stadio Sao Paolo.
Juan Mata gave the away side an unlikely lead, and an away goal to take into the second leg on 27 minutes, but boss Walter Mazzarri, who was absent from the touchline, saw his side subsequently strike three times to take a firm grip of the tie.
Ezequiel Lavezzi’s sublime finish and Edinson Cavani’s unorthodox finish gave the Italian side a half-time lead, before Lavezzi netted his second, following David Luiz’s error.
Andre Villas-Boas, whose position as manager had come under continued pressure following Chelsea’s lacklustre draw with Birmingham City in the FA Cup, began without many of his side’s experienced heads with Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien all missing from the start.
Captain John Terry will undergo knee surgery on Wednesday, and therefore was also absent, but the wholesale changes appeared to point towards Villas-Boas’ comments last week concerning who he felt was behind him in the Blues dressing room.
After Cavani spurned several opportunities to open the scoring, Villas-Boas’ selection policy, which had already seen Cole replace the injured Jose Bosingwa, appeared to be paying off, as the west Londoners struck what could turn out to be a vital away goal just before the half hour.
Daniel Sturridge’s miss-hit pass was sliced Paolo Cannavaro, with the ball falling to Mata on the volley to side foot past Morgan de Sanctis.
The home side were behind for just 11 minutes before they levelled the scores, Lavezzi shaking off Raul Meireles, before curling past Petr Cech.
But any hopes Chelsea had of restricting the damage until the interval were ended on the stroke of half-time when Cavani finished after Gokhan Inler delicious cross, which had the visitors’ back four reeling.
The second period saw Chelsea’s midfielder of Ramires and Meireles become more involved, but Villas-Boas’ side were limited to long-range efforts from Mata, with De Sanctic untroubled.
Napoli were proving to be constant threat on the break, and they provided the sucker punch mid-way through the second period when Cavani capitalised on Luiz’s mistake, to set up Lavezzi, who coolly slammed past Cech.
Cole denied Christian Maggio notching a fourth for the hosts, but while the Premier League side dominated possession late on, they failed to breach Napoli’s shaky looking defence, with substitute Frank Lampard coming closest in the dying minutes, but to no avail.