Ezequiel Lavezzi bagged a brace and Edinson Cavani scored a bizarre goal, as Napoli fought back to crush Chelsea 3-1 in the Champions League.
The Partenopei recently rediscovered their Serie A form and hoped to do the same in Europe, having already eliminated Manchester City from the competition. Hugo Campagnaro made a lightning recovery from an ankle problem to start in this first leg.
Coach Walter Mazzarri was suspended for both legs of this Round of 16 tie and stayed behind to watch it on television, but assistant Nicolo Frustalupi had a 100 per cent record when standing in at Napoli, beating Steaua Bucharest in 2010 and Parma last term.
Chelsea were in dire straits and Andre Villas-Boas was feeling the pressure. John Terry has been ruled out for around two months due to knee surgery, while Ashley Cole is not 100 per cent fit, but surprisingly Frank Lampard and Michael Essien were benched. Didier Drogba beat Fernando Torres to the starting spot in attack with Jose Bosingwa at left-back.
It was raining heavily on a packed Stadio San Paolo and Petr Cech just about prodded a long Paolo Cannavaro ball off Ezequiel Lavezzi’s foot. Edinson Cavani sprung the offside trap down the left and Cech stuck out a foot to parry at the near post.
Bosingwa pulled up with a suspected thigh strain, making way for Cole after just 11 minutes. Campagnaro also needed a large bandage after clashing heads with Drogba. Cavani was just caught offside from Lavezzi’s through ball, but at the other end there was a misunderstanding between Morgan De Sanctis and Campagnaro, which Florent Malouda failed to entirely make the most of.
Christian Maggio burst past Cole down the right and his shot across the face of goal forced another Cech save.
However, Chelsea took the lead with their first genuine chance. A horrible Paolo Cannavaro attempted clearance from Daniel Sturridge instead looped into the air and fell perfectly for Juan Mata to prod past a helpless De Sanctis. A strange bobble on the San Paolo pitch surprised the Napoli captain.
A Sturridge counter was charged down for a corner, which De Sanctis failed to get hold of as David Luiz nodded over the bar.
Lavezzi had not yet scored in the Champions League, but got Napoli’s equaliser on 38 minutes. He gathered outside the area, cut back past Raul Meireles and curled a beautiful right-foot shot into the far bottom corner past Cech’s outstretched hand.
Campagnaro was continually getting treatment for that bleeding head wound he suffered in the opening minutes. Ramires had the chance to restore Chelsea’s lead straight away while Campagnaro was off the field, but ballooned over after finding space in the D. Raul Meireles was booked and will be suspended for the second leg at Stamford Bridge.
Deep into first half stoppages, Cavani turned the game around completely to send the San Paolo crowd wild. He snuck up round the back of the Chelsea defence to knock a Gokhan Inler cross in with his chest from point-blank range.
After the restart a David Luiz header was eventually cleared practically off the line by Salvatore Aronica, while a Malouda snapshot was smothered by De Sanctis.
Lavezzi really should’ve made it 3-1 when Cavani rolled across for the unmarked Argentine, but Pocho flashed the angled drive across the face of an open goal.
Cavani also drilled off target and Gary Cahill was perhaps fortunate to only receive a yellow card for a dreadful studs-up tackle on Lavezzi in midfield.
Mata and Malouda had volleys charged down, then Drogba did well to control a Malouda cross, but Aronica did just about enough to force a corner as he was about to pull the trigger. From that set play, Cahill’s header whistled wide.
However, just during Chelsea’s strongest period of pressure, it was Napoli who extended their lead. Cavani burst forward on to a long Campagnaro ball and pounced on a David Luiz error, drew out Cech and rolled across for a totally unmarked Lavezzi to fire home.
Villas-Boas used up his remaining substitutions with Lampard and Essien replacing Malouda and Raul Meireles. Blerim Dzemaili took over from Lavezzi for the final 15 minutes.
Napoli had huge problems clearing a corner, but eventually managed to get it away after it ricocheted around the six-yard box.
The Partenopei had a fantastic chance to make it 4-1, as Marek Hamsik and Lavezzi tore the defence apart, rolling across to Maggio only for Cole to perform a decisive goalline clearance. Some Napoli players suggested it had crossed the line, but not completely.
Goran Pandev replaced Hamsik, but ballooned over from a promising position. In stoppages Drogba did the same, while De Sanctis got down to block a Lampard snapshot.
Napoli 3-1 Chelsea
Scorers: Mata 27 (C), Lavezzi 38, 65 (N), Cavani 45+2 (N)
Napoli:De Sanctis; Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Aronica; Maggio, Gargano, Inler, Zuniga; Hamsik (Pandev 82), Lavezzi (Dzemaili 73); Cavani
Chelsea:Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, David Luiz, Bosingwa (A Cole 11); Ramires, Raul Meireles (Essien 70), Malouda (Lampard 70); Sturridge, Drogba, Mata
Ref: Carballo (Spa)