Chelsea take on Napoli - live webchat with Dominic Fifield

Ahead of Chelsea's Champions League match against Napoli, the Guardian's London football correspondent Dominic Fifield joins us for a live web chat

Despite Napoli's 3-1 advantage, Roberto Di Matteo's side are sounding bullish about qualifying for the Champions League quarter-finals ahead of tonight's game.

Here to discuss the match and Chelsea's future prospects is our London football correspondent Dominic Fifield. He'll be online from 12pm GMT - please post questions for him in the comments section below.

The webchat is now over. We have posted questions Dominic responded to here to make the discussion easier to follow.

timrolls asks:

Do you think genuinelly think Chelsea can go through tonight? My heart says we can, my head isn't quite so sure. I think we can score a couple but am not so sure about keeping a clean sheet, especially if Napoli have to come at us - what do you think?

Dominic Fifield responds:

Hi Tim
There's clearly a chance, albeit a slim one. Chelsea's task is nowhere near as daunting as that taken on by Arsenal last week. Even if that did ultimately end in in glorious failure, there's still encouragement to be drawn from the fact that Milan fell to pieces in that first half, and Napoli could do the same. I would say, however, that the precedent set by last week works both ways: I think Mazzarri's team will arrive guarded against enduring a night that uncomfortable, and are pretty solid domestically at present. They have also scored in all seven of their Champions League games to date, and I suspect will do so again tonight..... all of which actually suggests there's no chance.
But Chelsea do have the know-how and experience of this competition - something Napoli lack - and will attempt to whip up the sort of frenzied start they did against Barcelona back in 2009 which so nearly got them into another final. They've got to strike the right balance between attack and defence, be wary of Napoli's ability on the break, and try and find some ruthlessness from somewhere. There's been too much profligacy this season. But maybe tonight's the night it clicks....

Riri10 asks:

Hi Dominic,

Do you know why Oriol Romeu has not been featured much of late also any chance of him featuring tonight?


Dominic Fifield responds:

Part of me wonders if Romeu's become the victim of the 'curse of the Guardian' given that he's hardly featured since we did him as our Saturday interview a while back... He had a hamstring injury for a while, and his absence coincided with the return of Mikel and Essien from their own fitness problems. I thought he'd been one of Chelsea's more impressive performers over the first half of the season - very tidy in possession and metronomic in his distribution - though perhaps Villas-Boas was seeking a bit more urgency in that position. Now Di Matteo has come in, he seems to favour two deeper lying midfielders, with one a stronger presence like a Mikel, which has left Romeu waiting for his opportunity. He was purchased as one for the future and has shown enough flashes so far to suggest he could be a real asset to this squad. I guess the hope now is that he is not unsettled by the departure of the manager who signed him because, if his game continues to develop, he'll surely be a regular in this team for some time to come.

jameswalsh asks:

What formation do you think Chelsea will go with tonight, given Napoli's much-mooted counter-attacking prowess?

Dominic Fifield responds:

Di Matteo seems to like his 4-2-3-1, so I'd guess that's how they'll start. They always have the option to switch to something more attack-minded if they have to chase the game, but it's all about striking a balance between scoring the two goals required, and avoiding shipping an away goal. He'll be conscious, too, of Napoli's threat on the counter-attack. This reputation they have as one of the best on the break is well founded, after all.

jameswalsh asks:

To what extent do you think the 'player power' aspect of Chelsea's struggles has been overplayed, if at all?

Dominic Fifield responds:

Overplaying it... Well, possibly. John Terry has certainly been annoyed by those suggestions and there were implied criticisms of Szczesny and Scolari when he spoke at his press conference last night. But the reality is that this small group of senior players represent the one consistent when it comes to Chelsea over recent seasons, campaigns hindered too often by managerial upheaval. And, as has been clear in the public comments offered up by the likes of Frank Lampard, there was a frustration among many that they had not played as often under Villas-Boas as they had previously. By the end - most notably at West Bromwich Albion - the team appeared rather listless and disheveled, which merely fueled the suspicion that many had completely lost faith in the manager. When it came to 'player power', as Terry suggested last night, the real influence the seniors had was less about communicating directly with the owner, and more about their apparent reluctance to buy into Villas-Boas' methods. Or, maybe, inability to buy into what he wanted them to do. That's where a subtler version of 'player power' manifested itself and, eventually, forced the owner to act once it became clear that the team might not finish in the top four. Again, I think Terry implied as much last night.
I'm sure in the past senior players have communicated directly to Abramovich and aired their grievances. Under Villas-Boas, their disaffection was more obvious and probably did not need to prompt such 'direct action'...

Gaiman asks:

Dominic, what do you think of Torres's future at Chelsea? With Drogba scoring and most probably starting tonight, do you believe he'll feature regularly until the end of the season? Is Roman's influence the only factor that there's a chance he won't leave the club in the summer?

Dominic Fifield responds:

Villas-Boas had come in last summer well aware that Chelsea couldn't afford another Shevchenko situation with Torres and, as a result, had initially sought to give the striker a platform upon which to excel. That approach changed when Torres found himself out of the team through suspension, and then through a lack of form. But whoever takes over at Stamford Bridge in the summer is going to have exactly the same pressure put on him to find a means of rejuvenating the £50m-man. The job description pretty much reads: "a) Makes sure we win trophies, b) Ensure we're always competing in the Champions League, c) Get Torres scoring (oh, and d) Don't lose any matches in the process or you've had it...)"

With that in mind, Torres must have a future at Chelsea. Clearly. And I'd suggest that Didier Drogba's time at the club is winding down now, even if he is likely to feature in most of the club's bigger games over the remainder of the current campaign. He's out of contract in the summer and expected to move to China, and I can't really see Chelsea changing their minds over the last few months of the season and offering him a new two-year deal to stay. Even if he remains a threat. His departure, bizarrely, might actually serve to free Torres up somewhat. Carlo Ancelotti suggested as much in an interview given to the Italian media a few months back. Perhaps it'll spark him into life. It does feel as if Chelsea have tried almost everything else, so maybe it's worth a go.....

Keysers0ze asks:

What formation, personnel and approach do you see Napoli deploying?

Dominic Fifield responds:

The journalists over from Napoli yesterday were suggesting a formation along the lines of this:

Napoli (3-4-2-1): De Sanctis; Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Aronica; Maggio, Inler, Gargano, Zuniga; Hamsik, Lavezzi; Cavani.

They put Cavani and Mazzarri up at the press conference, and both stressed the need to consider the tie poised at 0-0, rather than with Napoli 3-1 up. I'd suggest they'd relish soaking up a bit of pressure then hitting Chelsea on the break, confident in the knowledge that the hosts aren't the defensively solid team they used to be. Mazzarri said he wanted his team to "play like 11 lions" when they don't have the ball. Which, admittedly, rather stole John Terry's thunder in the press conference...

MZorin asks:


Don't you find it convenient that JT miraculously recovered from his injury almost immediately after AVB was sacked when he was due to be out for a good few more weeks?

Dominic Fifield responds:

Convenient certainly in as much as Chelsea's season appeared to be unraveling and they desperately needed him back to offer some semblance of solidity. What else could you possibly be implying......? I was actually given the impression that Terry was generally supportive of Villas-Boas during his time at the club, not least because the manager backed him so publicly over his impending court case and the England captaincy issue. And, also, because Terry was generally in the team and still getting games. Regardless, even when Terry went under the knife with the pessimistic noises of "six weeks out" emanating from the club, it always felt as if he'd be back for the return leg against Napoli.

Mellman asks:

Hi dominic,

I am getting increasingly frustrated with Chelsea's lack of imagination with our youth. I honestly believe that if AVB had played Josh this season as much as he is played Mereiles then the fans would have defended him more. Mereiles is a good player but hasn't done enough to warrant stopping a potential superstar from playing. It has been very frustrating to watch.

I am also a big believer in the fact we don't play to Torres's strengths. I could be wrong but I am pretty sure I heard a stat where is shooting to goal scoring ratio is not much different to his at Liverpool. We need to buy more Mata's....

Dominic Fifield responds:

That is a common criticism of Chelsea and its academy, and there is an obvious frustration that players like McEachran (maybe Bertrand, too) have simply not had a look in at the club. But the reality is that if the first-team manager is basically working on the premise that he might be out of a job if he loses one or two matches - and the track record suggests he will be - then why would he risk throwing the 'unknown quantities' that are the club's young players into the fray? Admittedly, I do think Villas-Boas missed a trick by not selecting McEachran more (or at all) at the start of the season when he was enjoying his honeymoon period at the club. He'd spoken glowingly about him on pre-season, after all. But, once things started to go wrong on the pitch, there was very little chance that any of the kids would have an opportunity.

Chelsea have been down this route before. At the start of last season, after the cull that had seen Ballack / Joe Cole / Carvalho / Belletti all leave, Ancelotti was asked to promote kids from the academy into the first-team set-up and justify all the funding the youth system had received over recent seasons. The reality was, however, that only McEachran suggested he was worthy of a regular place in the senior squad, and he only started one Premier League game (the last of the season at Everton, after which Ancelotti was sacked). I completely understand the frustration. There's nothing better than seeing youngsters break into the first-team set-up, but it feels as if Chelsea's whole philosophy has to change to make that actually work. They have to start thinking more long-term and, at present, that's not really an option given that it might cost them a place in the top four.

Maybe McEachran will come back from Swansea having developed his game significantly, as Jack Wilshere did when on loan at Bolton from Arsenal. Though I do have to admit wondering whether his move to the Liberty stadium, just as Brendan Rodgers signed another attacking midfielder in Gylfi Sigurdsson, was the wisest. The fear is he could just end up as a fringe player there as well.

boc610 asks:

hi it possible that if de matteo's stewarship is a success ie they beat napoli, claw themselves back into 4th spot running, that he may be given the job permanently (or at least for whole of next season)? would be very refreshing if that were to happen... i feel that he moulded a pretty decent team at west brom (much like martinez is trying to do with wigan) but just didnt have the players to bring it to fruition.

CS, Dublin.

Dominic Fifield responds:

I'd be surprised if Di Matteo was a serious contender for the job beyond the end of the current season, even taking in his experiences gaining promotion back to the Premier League with West Bromwich Albion and the style of football that team played under his stewardship. But that's not to say Chelsea may have a huge number of other options available to them come the summer. Given that Pep Guardiola seems a pipedream, and I wonder whether Chelsea would really want to revisit having Jose Mourinho as manager (successful, I know, but too much friction and desire for control, perhaps, off the pitch), there are not that many other 'mouth-watering' candidates out there to have Abramovich salivating. He has tended to go with flavour of the month, after all, but he has exhausted virtually every kind of 'manager-type' out there: World Cup winners, European Cup winners, up-and-coming coaches with a pedigree... and Avram Grant. It'll be intriguing to see which route they take. But I'd be amazed if that left Di Matteo in charge at the start of next season.

ManU85 asks:

Hi Dominic,

Just a very simple query, Why not play a 442 , with drogba and torres upfront ?? I think as a option has not been tried enough. One would create space for the other and presto!! we would have more goal scoring chances. I simply cant understand why our managers have not tried this enough, could you provide an explanation and please don't say its about balance, if cant score goals then it has to be because their isn't enough support upfront

Dominic Fifield responds:

Successive managers have looked at it and ruled it out pretty quickly. It may not just be about Torres and Drogba's ability to play in a partnership (they may make the same runs, after all, and I think I'm right in saying that Torres' best football at Liverpool was as a lone striker with Gerrard acting as support from midfield?), and more about what options the club has behind them. This squad appears to lack natural width. Juan Mata favours venturing in-field, and has been employed behind a forward over the last few weeks. Daniel Sturridge is forever cutting in from the right, and would argue he's not a winger at all and should be being employed as a central striker regardless. Of the others, perhaps Florent Malouda in his pomp (possibly at Lyon) would have hugged the left touchline and stretched opponents, allowing the forwards both space in which to operate and a supply-line of crosses from which to benefit. But would he do that now? Certainly, the likes of Kalou (who has played wide) and Ramires (likewise) do not feel like natural fits as wingers, which is presumably one of the reasons Chelsea have more regularly employed a narrow 4-3-3 in recent seasons with the full-backs offering the most natural width to the system. Not since the days of Duff, Robben and Joe Cole have Chelsea really hugged touchlines...

DeathByEnnui asks:

Do you think Chelsea will ever win the CL? After I watched the referee ensure that Barca semi-final, amidst all the crowing from rival fans, I remember being genuinely shocked. It was like France-Germany '82 for me. I couldn't quite believe what had just happened in front of billions of viewers around the world.

Another question - Why does Raul Meireles get in the first eleven?

Dominic Fifield responds:

I can't see it happening any time soon, regardless of what happens tonight. Can anyone really look beyond Barcelona or Real Madrid? As for Meireles, I thought he looked quite tidy (his football, not his hair) when he first arrived at Chelsea, and that was a good hit at Birmingham last week. But he's suspended tonight, so you needn't worry too much...

TranmereSam asks:

Will Essien be able to reach his previous heights after his injury troubles? There was a stage where he was the best midfielder in the league but I fear that those days may be behind him.

Dominic Fifield responds:

Suspect the knee injuries will have taken their toll, to be honest. Hopefully he can adjust his game because that trademark, explosive power has probably been lost. [He'll probably tear into Napoli tonight, now...]

AliAliAli asks:

Hi Dominic,

With Terry now fit and Cahill improving, what happens with David Luiz? I think he offers a lot to the team, even if he is prone to error [who isn't?] Could Chelsea play with a back three, or should he be moved into midfield. He is unlikely to replace the reliable Ivanovic at full back, though when he subbed for him at the weekend i though he did well.

Dominic Fifield responds:

David Luiz, David Luiz, David Luiz... Life's never dull when he plays, even if you're not sure if he's going to produce something outstanding (going forward) or unfathomable (while defending). Villas-Boas was reluctant to employ him in midfield, and he may lack the discipline to sit in front of a back-four anyway. Likewise, I'll be honest, I didn't think he looked the most convincing of right-backs against Stoke on Saturday, and seemed to be yearning for one of his centre-halves to advise him what his duties should be. Dislodging one of Terry and Cahill seems to be his challenge (though, strangely, I can see him starting this evening instead of Cahill...) and he'll see his future at centre-back, but I guess it'll all depend upon the identity of the new manager in the summer. Maybe the propensity to commit baffling errors will decline with time.

Dominic signs off:

Think I'm running away from this forum now - best get up to the Bridge to see if any of the predictions even vaguely play out - but thanks to all for your comments and questions. Apologies I couldn't answer some of them. Jackdrone's, in particular, stumped me... but cheers for asking.
Thanks again, all

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