Napoli V Chelsea: 8 Players to Watch in Champions League Last 16 Tie
When Chelsea travel to Naples for the first leg of their Champions League knockout stage match, it will be the most important match for the Blues in their new manager's reign this season.
The match will not only test the squad's quality and resilience but could also turn out to be Villas-Boas' fate decider. The Mourinho-repeat has been in troubled waters since taking charge at the start of this season.
With his team fighting for a top four finish (leave aside any title race), out of the League Cup, struggling in the FA Cup and suffering reported player discontent along with his failed tactics and decisions, the season can only get better for the 34-year-old Portuguese.
The Champions League is the most cherished trophy at Stamford Bridge, and Villas-Boas will be looking to resurrect his failing reign with a boost.
A win against Napoli, much tougher than it may actually sound, could help Villas-Boas gain back the fans who seem to be losing their patience with their disoriented manager. The win could also help him calm Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's slowly unnerving patience, aside from helping his squad regain confidence.
Chelsea's trip to Napoli can best be described as their Italian Job, which is their most important fixture this season. A mistake there, and the season could end up in tatters, which would undoubtedly see them end another season with a barren trophy cabinet.
Moreover, that could see Villas-Boas leave Chelsea even before than the older players who are scheduled to be sold this summer.
In the following slides we take a look into the eight players to watch in Chelsea's most important fixture of the season when they face Napoli on Tuesday.
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Leading the front of the now famed Three Tenors is the on-fire Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani. The highly-rated youngster has seen his goal-scoring exploits draw attention from top European clubs, Chelsea being one of them.
Hence, when the 25-year-old takes the field against one of his suitors, he will surely be looking to impress them with his skills.
His ability to convert chances can only be underlined by the fact that he has scored all four times he has taken a shot on target. He has scored 22 goals in his 30 appearances for Napoli this season, and given Chelsea's fragile defense, there is plenty of reason to believe that he shall score a goal or two.
Villas-Boas can only hope that his defenders learn quickly from their mistakes as a lot of concentration and discipline will be needed to stop this lanky Uruguayan.
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One thing that has helped every Chelsea fan to ease their nerves ahead of the Napoli game is the return of their talismanic Ivorian striker, Didier Drogba.
The temperamental striker returned last week after failing to help his country lift the African Nations Cup by missing a penalty in normal time. Hence, Drogba will be looking to nurse his wounds by scoring for Chelsea when they visit Naples on Tuesday.
The fiery Ivorian had delivered a scintillating performance scoring a hat trick in their do-or-die match against Valencia to help the Blues make it to the knockout stages as group leaders. Chelsea face the same dilemma again as they visit Napoli.
The Blues have not looked in good shape in recent weeks with lame draws and losses seeing them fall out from the top four position. Their performances have lacked professionalism and confidence too.
With his future depending much on the outcome of the match, Villas-Boas is likely to hand his in-form striker Drogba a start ahead of the ineffective Torres. Every Chelsea fan will have their hopes pegged on the Ivorian when the Blues take the field against Napoli on Tuesday.
As always, the big man will be looking to make it count in his club's biggest match of the season.
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Napoli's highly-rated midfielder has developed to become one of their most vital players in the last few seasons.
He plays behind striker Cavani and alongside Lavezzi, creating goal-scoring chances for their Uruguayan forward. The 24-year-old Slovakian international has delivered some impressive performances this season. His ability to dribble past opposition players with ease combined with a brilliant vision of the game allow him to make defense-splitting passes and create goal-scoring chances out of nowhere.
Given Chelsea's slow defense, Hamsik is expected to torment Luiz and Co. with his blistering pace and trickery. He will have to play a vital role if Napoli are to continue with their dream European run this season.
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Chelsea's bright spot in an otherwise bleak season, Juan Mata has proved his worth in gold.
The former Valencia man has been the spine of Chelsea's midfield and attack this season, combining his fast pace and brilliant dribbling skills to create numerous goal-scoring chances. His eight goals and 11 assists this season for the Blues' backs the above statement. Every Chelsea attack has Mata present somewhere in the line, and he has come up as Chelsea's primary playmaker this season.
Though Mata sometimes looks left out and jaded, his danger cannot be overlooked by the opposition. His sudden burst of pace along with his ability to easily move past opposition defenders make him one of the most feared midfielders in the world.
Chelsea will be hoping their Spanish midfield maestro to deliver another brilliant performance and help them complete their Italian Job in style.
Napoli, for their part, will be looking to control the midfielder's movements in an effort to stifle Chelsea's attack.
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The Napoli captain and brother of Italian legend Fabio Cannavaro is the anchor for the whole team.
He plays in the central defending role and helps keep the squad organised. His impressive anticipation and ability to read the game makes him a solid centre-back.
With Napoli playing three defenders and the wing-backs moving up frequently, he holds fort at the central defense, providing cover while the wing-backs get involved in the attack.
Cannavaro is not the most celebrated but is nonetheless the most vital player in the Napoli team. If Napoli are to secure their ticket to the next round of the Champions League, then the Partenopei must keep a leash on the Blues' fiery Ivorian striker Drogba, which shall mean a solid defensive display from their captain.
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Chelsea's 24-year-old midfielder has developed into one of their vital players this season.
After a nervy debut season with the Blues, the calm but gritty youngster has found his mettle this season and delivered some brilliant performances.
After being sidelined for a month by an injury, the Brazilian made his return in the Blues' FA Cup fifth-round faceoff against Birmingham. He delivered a impressive performance on his return that was a welcome boost for Chelsea ahead of their Italian adventure.
Ramires has seen his determined and athletic play, combined with his tireless running around the opposition defenses, make him a vital players in Villas-Boas' squad. In a season when Chelsea has failed to score too many goals, Ramires has played his part by scoring eight goals for the Blues, more than strikers Drogba and Torres combined.
His endless run from midfield deep into opposition defense plays an important role in Chelsea's attacking moves by unsettling the opponents' defensive discipline. Though he has some trouble making crosses, he covers up that error by his goal-scoring exploits and defense-splitting passes.
If Chelsea are to overcome Napoli, they'll need Ramires to continually threaten the Italians' defensive strengths. Ramires' pace to launch a counterattack seems their best possible way to secure a win.
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Napoli's 26-year-old Argentine forward Ezequiel Lavezzi is one of the club's famed Three Tenors.
Nicknamed "The Beast," Lavezzi was Napoli's key striker until the arrival of Cavani. Since then he has conceded his place at the tip of the attack and plays behind the Uruguayan alongside Hamsik.
His brilliant dribbling qualities along with his ability to make perfect through balls help create goal-scoring chances for Cavani up front. With five goals and six assists so far this season, he has been a vital player in the Napoli team.
His tenacity and high energy have often drawn comparisons to Carlos Tevez. His continuous run into opposition defenses creates spaces for his teammates, making him one of the most dangerous defenders in Serie A.
With arrival of Cavani, the spotlight has shifted away from Naples' own star, but the effectiveness of the Three Tenors would not be the same without him.
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Chelsea's young Brazilian defender has come of age this season, despite some criticism from older players (the most vocal being Manchester United great Gary Neville) for making rash tackles and sometimes being out of position.
He is undoubtedly a gem in the making, though his occasional concentration snaps and reckless techniques are problematic. On the other hand, he's had far fewer errors this season, so the mistakes are probably due to his lack of experience.
At 24 years, he has a lot more to learn and has progressed greatly this season, coming out as one of the vital players in Villas-Boas' squad. His confidence with the ball and ability to run out of the defense with the ball into opposition halves allow him to turn defense into attack within some seconds.
His gritty determination to succeed helps him overcome criticisms, however severe they may be. Chelsea's best bet against Napoli will be to have a steely defense and attack the Italians on the counter, a tactic in which Luiz has a very vital role to play.
Though it remains to be seen how effectively he can keep the likes of Cavani, Hamsik and Lavezzi at bay, Chelsea need their promising defender to step up if they are to forge out a result against Napoli.