In case you haven’t noticed, Chelsea appear to be in crisis: yes, a full-blown crisis in which they’ve managed to somehow slip to as far down the table as fifth, battling with that other crisis case Arsenal for the title of London’s most basketcase sporting institution. Oh, and a Champions League place. Speaking of which, you might also have noticed that Chelsea are taking on Napoli in that very competition this evening; it’s a pretty safe bet that they won’t be in it for much longer, going on current form.
Napoli themselves have had something of a funny season; currently sixth in the league, they are badly underperforming in a season in which many tipped them as title challengers. They’ve spent the entire season playing poorly against the teams they should be beating and putting in stonking displays against their title rivals and in the Champions League, which appears to have been made their priority this season. It’s for this reason that Chelsea fans such as myself are going into this game with a sense of extreme trepidation; notwithstanding our mostly turgid efforts in the last 18 months, we’re still seen as a big scalp to Italian clubs, and especially a team like Napoli. This is because there is a huge amount of respect for English football in this part of the world, for its strength in depth, its honesty (I know, I know) and its stadiums, which are mostly full everywhere, nearly every week. Italian ultras even read English hoolie porn, and believe far too much of it (it’s for this reason English fans often find themselves targeted when they go abroad). This means that they will be busting a gut to beat us, and will be cheered on by a monstrous, highly intimidating crowd. And they have Marek Hamsik, Lavezzi, Inler and Edison Cavani, one of the best strikers in Europe, fired up and ready to go. We simply don’t have that calibre of player in our team at the moment.
Napoli have spent the entire season playing poorly against the teams they should be beating and putting in stonking displays against their title rivals and in the Champions League
So what do Chelsea have going for them at the moment? Precisely nothing, other than a residual pride that will probably mean we will avoid a complete humiliation. Watching us play at the moment is like watching a tank squadron trying to climb Ben Nevis; our slow, rumbling attacks slide forward in strict formation, bumping up ineffectually against opposition backlines, while at the back we appear to have completely lost the ability to defend. Watching us the moment is to observe the long-overdue end of an era, and instead of planning effectively for the future, the club bought Fernando Torres, a striker who wasn’t even in form for Liverpool when we bought him, for £50million. That’s fifty million pounds sterling. Meanwhile they boot their promising youngsters all over the Europe and the lower leagues, never to be seen play a senior game for Chelsea. It’s also clear that either: the players do not want to play for Andre Villas-Boas; that he is deliberately trying to snub certain senior players in order to gain control of the dressing room; or that he is in way over his head.
So what can we expect from this evening? Wave after wave of Napoli attack, in all likelihood, with our defence wobbling and out attackers misfiring. The only heart that I can take from this season so far is that our best displays this season – the 3-0 win against Valencia, beating Manchester City, the nine-man second-half domination of QPR and the 1-1 at White Hart Lane in December – all came in games that were either crucial to our season or where we had something big to prove. I’d like to see another display of that kind, even if we don’t get a result, just to abate the doom and gloom emanating from our spoiled fan base, and to see AVB given a bit longer in the hot seat. I’ve personally had enough with us chopping and changing managers, and I refuse to believe that someone who won a treble – including the Europa League – is a complete incompetent. We’ve made our bed and we should lie in it, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if (assuming he is given the chance) he brings a revitalised look to Stamford Bridge next season. God knows we need it.
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