The knives are out for Andre Villas-Boas after Chelsea’s loss to Napoli but the defeat was not as bad as the score suggested.
This is not to suggest that the club from Stamford Bridge played well at all, but they could quite easily have gotten more from the game if they had been more clinical and defensively mature.
Neither team at the Stadio San Paolo were overly impressive in anything other than attacking and the poor defences on show meant both sides were to have chances to take.
Quite how Napoli managed to only concede once is a mystery, as the back three were constantly exposed by Blues midfielders marching through the middle of the pitch.
Criticism was reserved for Villas-Boas in his selection of Ramires and Raul Meireles as holding midfielders, but an inability to cover their back four was not exclusive to the pair.
Gokhan Inler and Walter Gargano did similarly ineffective jobs, with the latter the spending more time charging into the space between Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill – the source of Chelsea’s problem throughout.
However, the only person who can take the blame for selection mistakes is the manager, but whether Lampard and Essien could do a better job is questionable. The England man’s legs aren’t what they were and defending was never his strongest point, while the Ghanaian has just returned from another extensive period out and still does not look up to speed.
If you think about Petr Cech making good saves from Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani, added to Christian Maggio having an effort cleared off of the line by Ashley Cole, you can be forgiven for thinking that Napoli deserved their win.
The counter to this, however, is the chance Ramires had when he marched almost unchallenged into the home side’s area but blazed wildly over and Branislav Ivanovic’s failure to pass when he had made a similar run to his Brazilian team-mate.
Juan Mata found lots of space around the area and could maybe have carved more opportunities had Didier Drogba not been so static all night. Daniel Sturridge was again guilty of wasting possession by holding on to it too long, but all of those players were given the space to exploit by the porous Napoli defence.
Many have written off the Blues chances for the second leg but adding a true defensive midfielder to the line-up should help to alleviate, without completely solving, some of the problems Napoli posed with their lightning quick counter-attacks.
The Serie A side’s defence is highly suspect and Chelsea will get chances to pick them off but they will have to be more clinical in taking them. At the same time, Napoli will inevitably put Chelsea’s defence under pressure and David Luiz will have to be at his best in terms of concentration.
A disciplined and economical display in terms of defence and possession will be the key to the required victory margin – Napoli’s inability to subdue their swashbuckling tendencies will put victory on a plate for vigilant opposition.
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