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Napoli v Chelsea: No Naples salvation for pressured Villas-Boas

| 21.02.2012

It’s widely-known just how important the Champions League is to Roman Abramovich, but Napoli look the better bet at 5/4 to win their first leg last-16 encounter with Chelsea.

Given that it is the one trophy to have eluded him and his millions since arriving in West London in 2003, it’s plausible that the Russian businessman will forgive several domestic failings should they be tempered by European success.

With Chelsea now flagging in fifth place, behind Arsenal on goal difference, under-pressure boss Andre Villas-Boas will certainly be hoping this is the case.

In any other scenario, the resumption of the Champions League might well have been seen as a welcome distraction to Premier League woes, but for a Chelsea side so bereft of belief and confidence, there are fewer places in European football likely to give them as rough a welcome as the 60,000-capacity Stadio San Paolo.

Walter Mazzari’s Napoli are still buzzing at being among Europe’s elite again, a veritable achievement for a club that went bankrupt only eight years ago.

They lie sixth in Serie A and with a potential challenge for their first domestic title since 1990 long relinquished, they are now fully concentrating on once again qualifying for a competition they’ve relished being a part of.

And, sitting five points behind the qualifying third spot in Serie A, they see no reason why this feat cannot instead be achieved by actually winning it.

Mazzari’s fluid 3-4-3 system has proved a perfect tactic on the continent, allowing them to soak up possession in their half before attacking on the counter with fluid, pacey intent.

Up-front Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi provide the creative flair, while 6ft 2in Uruguyan Edinson Cavani acts as the perfect fulcrum for the pair to work off.

Cavani has 15 leagues goals this season to add to the four he has in the Champions League already, and as Man City fans will attest, the return of John Terry may not be enough to stop him – he’s 9/2 to score the first goal.

Unlike Chelsea, Napoli arrive in good form, having dispatched Fiorentina 3-0 away on Friday, following a 2-0 home win over Chievo. They’ve failed to score only once in their last ten home matches, where they are unbeaten in six. Chelsea are winless in four.



Richard Anderson