AVB: LIKE IT OR LAMP IT, BOYS; CHAMPIONS LEAGUE NAPOLI 3 CHELSEA 1 LAST 16, FIRST LEG Blues boss dumps Frank as he does things his way.
ANDRE VILLAS-BOAS turned this match into a public act of bloodyminded defiance. Burdened by intense pressure, ridiculed by some, doubted by most, the Chelsea boss refused to buckle.
In fact, he did the opposite.
He stood up to his dressing room, stared down his critics and, on the biggest night of his professional life, did it his way.
Already deprived of captain John Terry through injury, he did what no Chelsea manager has ever done before and left out Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole.
He played Didier Drogba, sure. He even made him skipper. But then the way Fernando Torres is playing, he had little choice. To shun the experience of Lampard, still a big player for big occasions, was a risky call but Villas-Boas did not shirk it.
He knew the consequences if he failed. Whatever he said the night before, he must have known a bad defeat could get him the sack.
But he went for it anyway. This was his team and he would live or die by it.
Well, he survived. Just. But he is still bleeding heavily. And there was no sense of wounds healing in this tumultuous 3-1 defeat.
At times, it felt as though Villas-Boas was masterminding the football equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade.
There were times when it felt as if everything was falling apart. That there would be no fall-back position.
That all would be lost. But somehow they clung on. Sometimes, it was desperate. It was Cole, on as an early substitute for the injured Jose Bosingwa, who hacked the ball off the line in the 80th minute when Napoli seemed certain to score.
That would have made it 4-1 and would have damned Villas-Boas's team selection unequivocally. As it is, Napoli will be favourites to go through when the teams meet at Stamford Bridge.
And Chelsea's performance did little to quell the feeling that things are on the verge of veering out of control.
Momentum is still running against the Blues boss. The obstacles are still mounting up. The odds are still against. But there is hope. Just.
There is still a glimmer of light for Villas-Boas and that is a small victory on a night like last night. The Stadio San Paolo, dilapidated and magnificent, is the kind of place that seeks out uncertainty and punishes it mercilessly.
It was here, in the teeth of a gale and in the face of a downpour that Villas-Boas chose to make his stand. It was hard not to admire his nerve.
It had already been quite a day before Chelsea even left their seafront hotel for the stadium. By mid-morning, Villas-Boas knew not only was Terry out but that he needed a knee operation that would keep him out for six to eight weeks.
the ing, nly he on ut e -e Then, when he told the players the starting lineup, Lampard let it be known he was dismayed at being left out.
at it nt ft And by late afternoon, it had also become apparent that Villas-Boas had left JUAN out Cole. On television, radio and Twitter, analysts expressed astonishment.
Inside the hotel, players seethed. Outside, a crowd of Napoli fans gathered, aiming obscene gestures whenever they thought they caught sight of a Chelsea player.
It was an ugly atmosphere, febrile and edgy. The beautiful weather that had bathed the Bay of Naples in the morning gave way to teeming rain.
Chelsea looked nervous from the start, vulnerable to searching passes aimed over the heart of their defence towards Edinson Cavani.
Gary Cahill looked particularly uncertain and twice in the opening stages Villas-Boas was grateful to superb the Bo sav saves from Petr Cech.
h. He lost Bosingwa, possibly his most controversial selection, with a hamstring injury, after 12 minutes.
He was replaced by Cole, which rather gave the lie to the idea that the England left back was unfit.
After nearly half an hour, it seemed as if Villas-Boas was to be vindicated when Juan Mata pounced on a defensive mistake and caressed a volley past Morgan De Sanctis.
But Ezequiel Lavezzi equalised and Cavani put Napoli ahead on the stroke of the interval.
Cavani once more exposed the shortcomings of Chelsea's ball-watching defence as a cross was allowed to bounce in the area before the Uruguayan ran on to it.
Chelsea seemed on the brink of collapse and were grateful when Lavezzi wasted a golden opportunity 10 minutes into the second half.
But defensive shortcomings cost them dearly again when David Luiz's ineffectuality caused chaos in the Chelsea area and Lavezzi made it three.
HOW CHELSEA WILL MISS JT.. The Blues' influential centre-half has to sit out the following matches: Saturday: Bolton (h) Feb 29: England v Holland Mar 3: West Brom (a) Mar 6: Birmingham (a) Mar 10: Stoke City (h) Mar 14: Napoli (h) Mar 19: Man City (a) Mar 24: Tottenham (h) Mar 31: Aston Villa (a) Apr 7: Wigan (h) Apr 9: Fulham (a) Apr 14: Newcastle (h) And Chelsea have already been without him for their past five games, which they have failed to win: Jan 31: Swansea (a) 1-1 Feb 5: Man Utd (h) 3-3 Feb 11: Everton (a) 2-0 Feb 18: Birmingham (h) 1-1 Feb 21: Napoli (a) 3-1
GRIN & BEAR IT Cole and Lampard enjoy a joke but Drogba vents fury to Di Matteo s UP Villas-Boas gives out instructions to striker Sturridge last night s* STURRING THINGS JUAN I WANT TO FORGET Mata is fed-up at the final whistle