Andre Villas-Boas, manager of Chelsea grimaces during the FA Cup with Budweiser Fifth Round match between Chelsea and Birmingham City. Chelsea play Napoli in the UEFA Champions League on February 21, 2012. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Chelsea and Napoli present matchup nightmares for each other, so expect goals.
Napoli and Chelsea don't have embarrassing defenses and have plenty of talent in defensive positions, but the matchups are bad going both ways. Napoli's front three are a matchup nightmare for Chelsea, while Christian Maggio could have a field day while Ashley Cole is out injured. Going the other way, Daniel Sturridge should be able to have his way cutting in from the left.
The good news for Napoli is that they may have found a solution to their woes at left central defense. The aging Salvatore Aronica has had a rough season, and he was replaced by Miguel Britos at the weekend. Britos was excellent in the Azzurri's win over Fiorentina, and he's much better equipped to deal with Sturridge than Aronica. Juan Mata could provide similar problems on the opposite flank.
Napoli have a clean bill of health for the most part, though Hugo Campagnaro was substituted out of the Fiorentina match. He is still expected to play. John Terry and Frank Lampard have sat out recent Chelsea matches with injuries, but are expected to make the 18-man squad. Terry should start, while Lampard's status as a starter or a bench player will be a tactical decision, not one based on fitness. Ashley Cole is out and Jose Bosingwa will likely play out of position at left back once again.
Andre Villas-Boas' decisions around how he sets up his midfield could be his most important. Walter Gargano and Gökhan Inler are a tough matchup for anyone, with Gargano's calm on the ball and Inler's fantastic raw athletic ability. They both have excellent positioning and are good at both breaking up and starting counter attacks through the center. Even if Chelsea plays a midfield three, between the ability of those two and Marek Hamsik's ability tracking back, they might not have an inherent advantage in the center.
Just as Sturridge and Mata are likely to draw the Napoli defense out of position and create problems, Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi could do the same on the other end. In the event that any of Chelsea's back four gets caught out of position trying to close them down, Edinson Cavani will be there to pounce. The Napoli front three can rip defenses to pieces on the counter, and with Chelsea's injuries and form, there's no reason to believe they'll be able to keep a clean sheet.
The first legs of Champions League knockout stage ties are usually tight defensive affairs where both teams are afraid to give up goals. Even if that's what Chelsea and Napoli are going for in this one, they won't be able to pull it off against each other. Neither defense should be able to match the other team's attack, and it would be surprising if both teams didn't find the back of the net at least once.
Napoli vs. Chelsea
Game Date/Time: Tuesday, February 21, 2:45 p.m. ET, 8:45 p.m. local
Venue: Stadio San Paolo, Naples, Italy
TV: FOX Soccer Channel (USA - English), FOX Deportes (USA - Spanish), Sky Sports 2 (UK)
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