Five reasons to be fearful for Chelsea hopes

As Manchester City learnt, Naples is no walk in the park, says Jack Pitt-Brooke

The atmosphere

Despite Stadio San Paolo being basically a cavernous concrete bowl, the atmosphere at Napoli games is ferocious. The ground will be full by mid-afternoon today, as the fans flood into Curva A and Curva B. Even given the presence of both a running track and, bizarrely, a moat between the pitch and the stands, the roar of the fans should Napoli score will be unlike anything the Chelsea players have heard before.

Even more intimidating, though, will be the whistling if Chelsea have the ball towards the end of the game. The intensity of the noise in the final stage of Manchester City's 2-1 defeat last November was remarkable, seeming almost to repel City's late attacks by its sheer hostility.

 

The defensive wall

That protection from the crowd is almost unnecessary now, though, because of the quality of Napoli's defence. Unlike most teams that Chelsea face, Napoli play with three centre-backs: usually Hugo Campagnaro, Salvatore Aronica and captain Paolo Cannavaro. If Campagnaro does not recover from a calf injury then Gianluca Grava will play instead. Any combination of three would be exceptionally well organised and disciplined, as well as being comfortable in possession.

It means that when wing-backs Christian Maggio and Juan Zuniga drop back to help, Napoli have a deep line of five defenders which is nearly impenetrable. Twice they frustrated City with it, and Chelsea will sweat to break through it tonight.

 

The transition to attack

Napoli are probably Europe's fastest counter-attacking side since Cristiano Ronaldo's Manchester United. When they win the ball back, wing-backs Maggio and Zuniga step up, turning their watertight 5-3-2 into a relentless 3-4-3. Like all good sides, they defend as a team and attack as a team. And once their famous front three, the il Tridente of Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani have the ball, they can tear through teams. It is not just that the three are all fast, incisive, imaginative footballers, but that they know each other's game so well that one meets the runs and passes of the others as if by telepathy. Chelsea's defenders can expect a difficult evening.

 

Edinson Cavani

The Uruguayan spearhead of Napoli's attack is a remarkable mixture of physical and technical gifts. Cavani even gives the impression of a thoroughbred racehorse, with his galloping legs and long mane of dark hair, and would certainly beat every Chelsea defender in a foot race. But he also has teasing movement, ruthless finishing and a perfect first touch to call upon. He scored all three of Napoli's goals against Manchester City in the group stage and has 55 in 77 for Napoli since he joined from Palermo in the summer of 2010.

 

Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi

Cavani would not be the same without the support of the Slovakian Hamsik and the Argentine Lavezzi, though. Hamsik is a bright runner, who acts as a link between the midfield and the two South American forwards, and chooses his moments perfectly when breaking into the box.

Lavezzi is arguably the finest player of the three. He is a scampering tattooed trickster, combining the waspish energy of his compatriot Carlos Tevez with the imaginative and delightful skill of Juan Roman Riquelme.

He is quicker than he looks, able to burst past defenders from a standing start, and has very well-tuned antennae for seeking out space and danger. He plays just off Cavani, knowing that defenders will soon worry about him and leave his team-mates unguarded.

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test