Following Arsenal’s abysmal capitulation in the San Siro last week, realistically out-of-form Chelsea are English football’s one remaining hope of Champions League glory.
That is a sad indictment of the Premier League, because Andre Villas-Boas’s men are going nowhere fast.
The under-fire Portuguese, in his first season at the helm at Stamford Bridge, must navigate a tricky last-16 tie with Italians Napoli to keep the cross of St George flying a little longer in Europe’s premier club competition.
After the 4-0 hammering dished out by AC Milan in their first leg last week, there is next to no chance of Arsenal reaching the quarter-finals, while Manchester City and Manchester United exited at the group stage.
So what chance do Chelsea have?
Following the 2004 arrival of Jose Mourinho the Blues went into every Champions League campaign expecting to win it. Under the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ they reached two semi-finals in three years.
Mourinho’s replacement, the less heralded Avram Grant, then led them to a maiden final in 2008, where they lost on penalties to Premier League rivals Manchester United. A third semi-final exit in five years followed, but now the prospect of them reaching even the quarter-finals look slim.
And that is largely of their own doing. The team is shy of confidence, their most established players are out of form, and a host of new signings have failed to show they have the quality to succeed at a club where the owner demands constant success, at home and abroad.
On Saturday, they were forced to settle for a replay in the FA Cup following a dismal draw at home to Championship side Birmingham. Once a fortress, Stamford Bridge now better resembles a maisonette.
Didier Drogba is back in the squad after his personal heartache of missing a penalty in the final of the African Cup of Nations, which contributed to his Ivory Coast team losing the final to Zambia. His confidence will hardly be sky-high – so he will probably fit in with his team-mates on that front.
Forlorn forward Fernando Torres, all £50million of him, has gone 21 games in all competitions without finding the net, while captain John Terry continues to pick up knocks. Frank Lampard is in and out of the side, and defensive duo David Luiz and Jose Bosingwa seem incapable of doing just that, defending.
What is worse is they face a Napoli side in great shape. They are fearless at the Stadio San Paolo where they beat Chelsea’s Premier League rivals Manchester City and haven’t lost in 11 European games. Chelsea also find it notoriously difficult on Italian soil, with just one win in seven.
All the signs point to another English defeat, but would it not be typical of Terry, Lampard, Drogba and co to produce when the going is really tough?
They need to, or their season will hit another low, and Villas-Boas’ future will again be called into question.
As for the standing of English football in Europe, it will not have been any lower since United’s 1999 treble triumph. There is a lot riding on you Andre.
Tags: Andre Villas Boas, Champion's League, Chelsea, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Jose Mourinho, Napoli