Chelsea

Chelsea 4-1 Napoli Champions League: An Epic Night at Stamford Bridge, Part 1

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 14:  Roberto Di Matteo caretaker manager of Chelsea celebrates victory with Frank Lampard after the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg match between Chelsea FC and SSC Napoli at Stamford Bridge on March 14, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Louis HamweyAnalyst IIIMarch 14, 2012

Author's Note:

Chelsea defied all odds Wednesday night, as their 4-1 victory at Stamford Bridge in the second leg of the Champions League tie against Napoli had them overcoming a 3-1 deficit to advance to the quarterfinals in Europe.

This article is part one of what will be a three-part piece I plan to publish over the next few days that examines this night in its totality, not from some inane statistical or x’s and o’s point of view, but purely from the perspective of a fan who shared the joy of the players as they rushed the field at the final whistle. Enjoy.

 

Part One: The Present

“AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!”

That was my reaction in a crowded Starbucks on 43rd St. and 2nd Ave. in Manhattan as I watched the grainy commotion of an entire team charge the field in pure elation

I stayed as reserved as possible, but was not able to save my half-eaten scone I knocked on the ground as I clapped unnecessarily loud. I felt a kind of joy that I imagine many of my friends felt a little over a month ago as the New York Giants won the Super Bowl, a kind of unmitigated luster in the knowledge that though I had contributed nothing (one could even argue I stole on my illegal stream), I had been vindicated for my long and senseless hours I had poured into following this team as if my singular voice and opinion mattered at all to them.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 14:  Napoli fans show their support during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg match between Chelsea FC and SSC Napoli at Stamford Bridge on March 14, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

After I had calmed down and the many prissy suits who had stared at me in disgust returned to their overly-priced beverage, I packed up my laptop and walked out of door, wondering why I was so damn happy.

And somewhere between third and Lex, it hit me: For 120 minutes, I had experienced time travel!

It was not a physical transformation. The fact that I needed only walk two more blocks to come across another Starbucks reminded me quickly I was very much indeed still in 2012. But it was a psychological one that took me back, not long, but back to 2009.

Guus Hiddink was in charge of the club then and had turned around their poor start under Felipe Scolari and guided them all the way to the FA Cup.

At Wembley, they salvaged a miserable season, winning the FA Cup on the back of goals from Drogba and Lampard. The two greatest scorers playing during Chelsea’s greatest time—what else would you expect?

Then, there was today.

Boom! Drogba opens the scoring—1-0. Boom! Terry—2-0. Boom! Lampard, 3–1.

Drogba, Terry, Lampard. What else would you expect?

Today’s victory was not just about them getting to the Champions League quarterfinals. If Arsenal had pulled off the comeback over Milan it, that would have been the outcome. But for Chelsea, it has much more of a meaning.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 14:  Roberto Di Matteo caretaker manager of Chelsea celebrates victory with Didier Drogba after the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg match between Chelsea FC and SSC Napoli at Stamford Bridge on March 14, 2012 in London
Michael Regan/Getty Images

To all the doubters, naysayers, weasels, anti-fans, goons, mucks, drones, labelists, haters, Spurs fans, beautiful game baboons, I have one thing to say: SHUT IT!

Chelsea did not knock the ball around like some dress rehearsal of Swan Lake. They did not need the pure touches of creativity and expressionism we begged for months ago. They did not try to reinvent themselves to “keep up with the Joneses,” and they certainly did not control the game from start to finish.

What they did was the exact same thing that brought them three EPL titles, three FA Cups and gave them their most success ever in Europe: They played Chelsea football!

They dug in with a fortress-like mentality, then went right into the faces of every Napoli player and challenged them. They said “it’s not gonna be like it was last time.”

They played the ball in the air: long, direct, ugly.

They hit the Napoli players hard in the chest, overpowering a side that was so use to seeing this junk they call the “modern” game, and the visitors had no answers.

Drogba scored with his head, wrestling position away from his defender, getting in front and snapping his neck with the kind of power and force that would leave those less athletic immobile for days.

Terry did what he has done a thousand times before, rise up higher than anyone else off the corner. But you would be stupid to think that he has the best vertical leap of all 22 men on the pitch. No, he just wanted it more than any of them.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 14:  John Terry of Chelsea celebrates his team's victory after the final whistle during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Chelsea FC and SSC Napoli Stamford Bridge on March 14, 2012 in London, England.
Clive Rose/Getty Images

And then, there was Lampard. For those of you who routinely suggest that the man who we all collectively once held above any other player on the squad, is washed up, please leave it alone. Your arguments no longer hold weight, as time after time after time, Lampard wins the game.

And please don’t try the simple-minded “it was only a penalty." Tell that to Juan Mata, who was subbed off in the extra time to avoid embarrassing himself again from the spot.

This is rambling and incoherent on so many levels. It is trite, overly opinionated, intensely direct and even hostile (how did that get in there?). But what it is more than anything is proof of the incredible ability of sports to ruin logic and be a catalyst for an emotional roller coaster.

Nothing else on earth could have me elated and simultaneously heated, grinning and wagging a finger.

But hey, it’s nice to finally have this feeling back.

Come back for part two. I promise it will be a bit better written.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @thecriterionman

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