Under-fire Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas may start injury-hit captain John Terry in their Champions League tie with Napoli on Tuesday.
Despite insisting he has the unconditional support of owner Roman Abramovich ahead of the first leg of the round-of-16 clash, an embarrassing home draw with Championship side Birmingham in their FA Cup fifth-round tie on Saturday, after three games without a win in the Premier League, would suggest otherwise.
The London outfit have slipped to fifth in England’s top flight and with leadership question marks plaguing the inexperienced Villas-Boas, his decision to select the stricken Terry could prove to be the defining moment of a darkening season on Tuesday.
“I will leave it as late as possible and make a decision on him after training in Naples,” Villas-Boas said.
“(Terry) is a great leader, gives you an extra emotional push. He’s a player of great importance.”
“They have a strong front three with (Marek) Hamsik, (Edinson) Cavani and (Ezequiel) Lavezzi.”
Of interest, too, will be Villas-Boas’ use of Frank Lampard, who looked less than impressed coming on as a second-half substitute against Birmingham.
All this will be music to the ears of Napoli manager Walter Mazzarri and after advancing from the competitions toughest group, which included the likes of Manchester City and Bayern Munich, he admitted Napoli ‘are in better shape’ than their beleaguered opponents.
Napoli have arrested a lean run with back-to-back victories in Serie A, the latest a clinical 3-0 dismissal away to Fiorentina.
A confident Mazzarri, who will not be on the bench due to a two-game touchline ban after he pushed Nilmar during their qualification-clinching 2-0 win over Villarreal, knows his side are facing Chelsea with the odds stacked in their favour.
“We are in better shape than Chelsea going into this game, but they have champions who are accustomed to playing a certain level of game,” Mazzarri said.
“On Tuesday they know that they cannot make a mistake, so will become unified and I doubt we’ll be facing a team in crisis.”
Doubts remain over defender Hugo Campagnaro, who limped off during the win in Florence, while Ashley Cole remains sidelined for Chelsea with a calf strain.
The tie may come down to Napoli’s vaunted front trio with the uncertainty in Chelsea’s defence.
Cavani bagged a brace against Fiorentina and Villas-Boas knows only too well the damage either of the three could do to his hopes of remaining at Stamford Bridge.
“Cavani is an amazing player. They are a danger. Their strength is in the collective spirit. They have an inner belief in each other. It will be a massive challenge. Everyone saw what Napoli did in a group which put Manchester City out,” Villas-Boas warned.
given our recent performances you dont know whats going to happen or how we'll perform in what is certainly a huge test for AVB.