Chelsea pay the price

Napoli ramped up the pressure on Andre Villas-Boas as Chelsea suffered a 3-1 defeat in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 clash after some kamikaze defending from the Blues.

Juan Mata had given the Premier League side the lead before a brace from the excellent Ezequiel Lavezzi and a smart improvised finish from the equally impressive Edinson Cavanileft them facing a significant challenge to progress, but they were largely the architects of their own downfall.

Villas-Boas’ men snatched the lead against the run of play in the 27th minute when Mata took full advantage of a shocking blunder from home captain Paolo Cannavaro to side-foot home into the bottom corner.

They should have extended that advantage soon after when David Luiz beat Morgan De Sanctis to Mata’s corner but could only head over the bar from six yards, with that miss proving costly as Lavezzi escaped from Raul Meireles all too easily and curled home in superb style from the edge of the box, with Petr Cech only able to get a hand to the ball.

And the Stadio San Paolo erupted when more weak play from Branislav Ivanovic allowed Cavani to convert Gokhan Inler’s cross with his shoulder at the far post in added time at the end of the first half.

There was no improvement in the standard of defending from either side following the interval, with Luiz culpable in the 65th minute, gifting possession to Cavani after Hugo Compagnaro’s pass out of defence, and he rolled the ball across the box for Lavezzi to fire home.

Villas-Boas may also come under fire for not starting with Frank Lampard or Michael Essien in what is regarded one of the most hostile atmospheres in Europe.

Indeed, the cacophonous Napoli fans, swirling wind and driving rain gave the whole occasion an almost apocalyptic feel.


The visitors were immediately under pressure, Cech needing to be alert to race off his line, while captain-for-the-night Didier Drogba briefly stayed down after a clash of heads.

Both were a prelude for worse to follow in the 10th minute when Cech produced real heroics after Cavani looked certain to convert Lavezzi’s pass, the goalkeeper just getting his foot to the ball.

Injury really did then strike when Jose Bosingwa limped off with what looked like a hamstring pull, forcing a half-fit Ashley Cole on far earlier than expected.

More brilliance from Cech denied Christian Maggio from a tight angle but Napoli were looking far from secure at the back themselves and, from nothing, they gifted Chelseathe lead.

Drogba found Daniel Sturridge, whose cross was inexplicably flicked back towards his own goal by Cannavaro, falling perfectly for Mata to fire left-footed beyond De Sanctis.

A stunned San Paolo struggled to process what had happened, with the visiting fans finally able to make themselves heard.

They might have been celebrating again when Sturridge wasted a glorious opportunity to play in Mata for goal number two, instead greedily trying to beat his man, while the resultant corner saw Luiz power a free header narrowly over.

Chelsea were in the ascendancy but they allowed Napoli to level seven minutes before half-time, Lavezzi given an age with which to curl a beautiful 25-yard shot beyond Cech.

Ramires should have restored the visitors’ lead when the home defence parted in front of him but he blazed over the bar.



Raul Meireles was booked for handball, suspending him for the second leg, before Napoli scored again two minutes into first stoppage-time.

Inler’s cross reached the far post and Cavani leant his shoulder into the ball to turn it home, the home fans letting off a firework in jubilation.

Villas-Boas refused to shut up shop after the interval and Marek Hamsik was forced to clear off his own line, while Florent Malouda drilled a volley too close to De Sanctis.

But Napoli should have punished another error when Meireles gave Cavani the chance to feed Lavezzi, who dragged wide.

Gary Cahill was booked for clattering into the livewire forward and Mata volleyed another shot straight at De Sanctis before a desperate Salvatore Aronica clearance denied Drogba a possible equaliser.

Napoli were not sitting back either and the latest Luiz howler saw them double their lead in the 65th minute, the defender kicking a long ball straight against Cavani, who squared past the stranded Cech for Lavezzi to steer into an unguarded net.

Villas-Boas responded by throwing on Lampard and Essien for Malouda and Meireles, with Lavezzi soon withdrawn for Blerim Dzemaili.

Ivanovic was unable to make the most of a goalline scramble and Napoli almost killed the match – and perhaps the tie – when Cole cleared Maggio’s close-range effort off the line.

Goran Pandev came on for Hamsik and he too might have made it 4-1 but Drogba also went close to giving Chelsea a tie-changing second away goal when he hooked wide.