Chelsea battle to keep Champions League chances alive

Out-of-form and low on morale, Chelsea head to Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday aiming to maintain English interest in the competition.

Updated: February 20, 2012 22:04 IST
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London: Out-of-form and low on morale, Chelsea head to Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday aiming to maintain English interest in the competition.

With Manchester United and Manchester City shunted into the second-tier Europa League and Arsenal on the verge of elimination, Chelsea seem to be the only possible quarterfinalist from a country that provided six of the last 12 finalists.

Chelsea have a strong pedigree with four semifinal appearances and an appearance in the 2008 final, but have slipped to fifth in the Premier League and only managed a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup on Saturday against second-tier opponents.

While Chelsea coach Andre Villas-Boas acknowledged last week he has lost the support of some players, Napoli is full of confidence after an impressive 3-0 win at Fiorentina on Friday.

Edinson Cavani struck twice to take his tally for the season to 15 in Serie A.

"The first thing that came into my head after the game is that this is the right path and that we need the same attitude against Chelsea," Cavani said. "It will be a very hard game for us.

"I want Napoli to win so that we can continue making history. We won't give up until the end."

Defender Hugo Campagnaro is likely to miss out with a calf injury.

Villas-Boas is hoping captain John Terry and Ashley Cole are fit after injuries and could recall veterans Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard in a bid to bolster experience and confidence.

"You need an extra mental push," Villas-Boas said. "Until you get out of the cycle with a win, for sure it perpetuates a little bit."

Also Tuesday, record nine-time champions Real Madrid are at CSKA Moscow for the first-leg of their round-of-16 match. Former winners Inter Milan and Marseille meet Wednesday, when Bayern Munich are at FC Basel.

Madrid go into the match in fine form domestically, having won 18 of their last 19 matches to lead Barcelona by 10 points.

Kaka, Marcelo and Sami Khedira are all in contention after returning for Saturday's 4-0 rout of Racing Santander, but Angel di Maria has been left out after apparently aggravating a leg muscle injury in his first appearance of 2012.

The Argentina international scored Madrid's third goal 10 minutes after coming on in the 63rd but fell awkwardly near the end of the match, appearing to injure the same right leg that kept him sidelined since December.

Lassana Diarra and Hamit Altintop were also omitted from a 21-man squad due to injuries, although fullback Alvaro Arbeloa does return.

"Di Maria provides certain characteristics that the team was without during his absence," coach Jose Mourinho said. "He changes the pace of the game when we attack and when we defend."

Cristiano Ronaldo leads Spanish league scoring with 28 goals, taking his tally to 120 in 123 games for Madrid. Kazim Benzema's pair of goals on Saturday took his league tally to 13. Both are likely to face CSKA.

Bayern head to Basel, who surprisingly qualified from their group ahead of Manchester United, worried that a season that started promisingly could end in disaster. The club has fallen four points behind Borussia Dortmund in the German league after a 0-0 at last-place Freiburg on Saturday and is now only third.

"The alarm bells are ringing," sporting director Christian Nerlinger said. "We have to get back on track soonest, or the season is going to become very depressive."

An angry president Uli Hoeness went to the dressing room Saturday, a sure sign that the front office is deeply concerned after watching Bayern create few chances against the worst defense in the league.

"We didn't run enough, we were not aggressive," captain Philipp Lahm said. "If you want to win the championship, you have to play differently."

Inter, the 2010 champions, are looking to the Champions League to rescue their season following a dramatic drop in form culminating in Friday's 3-0 home loss to struggling Bologna.

Inter had started talk of resurrecting their title chances after a streak of eight successive victories but have now gone six games in all competitions without a win — a run which includes five defeats.

Fans protested during and after the game on Friday, clamouring for the return of 2010's treble-winning coach Mourinho.

Claudio Ranieri remains in charge for the time being and desperately needs a good result.

Diego Milito and Dejan Stankovic are back after missing the Bologna game with the 'flu'. Uruguay striker Diego Forlan is set to make his European debut for Inter after he was cup tied for the group stage.

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