Spotlight On: Napoli

So, Chelsea supporters, you’ve had a tough time of it recently. And now you’re off to meet Napoli in the Champions League, hoping against hope that this will be what brings your club back from the brink.

Well, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock, I’m here to tell you — this tie just might not be the simple one you’re wishing for. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that Napoli won’t be that easy to beat, particularly at home.

At first glance, it looks as though the partenopei are in a “crisis” similar to Chelsea. After all, they’re in sixth place in Serie A, and were just beaten by league newcomers Siena in the Coppa Italia. And yes, it really hasn’t been a fun season to be a fan of Napoli, unless you like frustration, roller coasters, and the fear that you’re about to have a heart attack.

The club wasn’t prepared to play in three competitions, and Coach Walter Mazzarri made some questionable decisions with the rotation of players.

But this is a squad that rises to the occasion, and hosting Chelsea will certainly be a reason for them to show off. Mazzarri won’t be present on the touchline, after shoving Nilmar during the 2-0 win over Villarreal, but that doesn’t mean his presence won’t be felt. He’ll certainly make sure that Napoli put their best faces forward.

Hugo Campagnaro is a doubt after limping off in the 3-0 victory over Fiorentina on Friday, but there are no other injuries or suspensions to deal with.

That means the starting XI should be predictable: Morgan De Sanctis; Gianluca Grava, Paolo Cannavaro, Miguel Britos; Christian Maggio, Walter Gargano, Gokhan Inler, Camile Zuniga; Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi; Edinson Cavani.

And of course it’s the front three that the Blues should be worried about: the Three Tenors, The Trident, and The Holy Trinity. A search through the matches in which Napoli have struggled reveal that these are the ones in which one of the threesome were dropped. Those who give the partenopei just a glance believe that it is Cavani that holds all the cards, and while it is true that the Uruguayan is a talisman of sorts, without Hamsik and Lavezzi, the system simply doesn’t work.

The two that support Cavani may not have his goal tally, but if Chelsea concentrate simply on stopping El Matador, they won’t be very effective. Hamsik, despite often being criticized by those who rarely watch him play, has the vision, is the one that reads the game and can execute the perfect pass at exactly the right moment. When he’s rendered ineffective, the entire team suffers. Then there’s Lavezzi, who can terrorize with his trickery, and whose pace will certainly frighten much of the Chelsea defense.

This isn’t to say Cavani won’t be a worry. He’s more than a simple poacher, a striker that relies upon service from the rest of the players. He certainly has a nose for goal, but Cavani invades the entire pitch, running back to defend before appearing in the box to head in a cross or nudge the ball into the net. With Chelsea’s backline looking so shaky as of late, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the partenopei don’t create multiple goal-scoring opportunities. And we haven’t even discussed the threat of Christian Maggio on the right wing — whichever makeshift left-back steps in for the visitors — won’t be prepared to handle his speed.

So, how to break down the partenopei? Overwhelm them in midfield and cross your fingers that the Chelsea defense is up to the task. And, of course, there’s Didier Drogba and Daniel Sturridge, whom I presume will be starting for Chelsea, the thought of which makes me anxious. The Napoli three-man backline has also had a tough time of it recently, and if Grava starts in place of Campagnaro, it will be even weaker.

The Blues certainly have more than a chance in this tie — if they can overcome their recent performances, that is. And, if they bring earplugs to drown out the noise of the San Paolo. That will be enough to get even the most experienced knees shaking.

This introduction to Napoli was contributed by Kirsten Schlewitz, who is a Napoli and Aston Villa fan, and contributes to 7500 to Holte and SB Nation Soccer. You can follow her on Twitter here @7500_Kirsten.

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