Mata: We can get past Napoli
Juan Mata has urged Chelsea to follow Arsenal's example and tear into Napoli from the first minute in Wednesday's do-or-die UEFA Champions League clash. Blues winger Mata dubbed this week's last-16 second leg a cup "final" and was adamant he and his team-mates could become one of only a handful of teams to overturn a two-goal first-leg deficit in the competition.
Some declared the tie over after Chelsea's 3-1 defeat in Naples almost three weeks ago, but Mata has taken inspiration from Arsenal nearly turning around a 4-0 loss against AC Milan on Tuesday as well as his own side's perfect European record at Stamford Bridge this season. "In football, nothing is impossible," the 23-year-old said.
"At Stamford Bridge, this Champions League, we had good results in the group - 3-0, 2-0 and 5-0. All the supporters, for sure, will be cheering us. It's a final for us and I think we can do it."
Napoli's strengths and weaknesses were laid bare during their 6-3 Serie A win over Cagliari on Friday night. Mata added: "From the first minute, we have to try to create chances to score. We know that they have very, very good strikers. We have to be careful with them but we are going to press them from the first minute."
Mata claimed the confidence shattered during the death throes of Andre Villas-Boas' reign had returned after two wins - and two clean sheets - under caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo. The second of those came in the shape of yesterday's 1-0 Premier League victory over ten-man Stoke which lifted Chelsea back level on points with fourth-placed Arsenal.
Mata, who reiterated his gratitude to Villas-Boas for bringing him to Stamford Bridge, admitted it had been a tough week. He said: "It wasn't easy, it wasn't easy, because you know we had a change, a big, big change. But I believe the team is still believing, is still working very good and the two wins, for sure, bring to us a lot of confidence."
Di Matteo has persisted with the Villas-Boas experiment of playing Mata more centrally, something that paid off yesterday when the Spaniard came off the bench to set up Didier Drogba's 100th Premier League goal. Asked whether a free role was something he could expect more often, Mata said: "I always try to be in contact with the ball - it's the football that I like. But, I don't know, it's a question for Robbie."
Di Matteo left little doubt what his plans were for Chelsea's most creative player, saying: "I know he's very influential there." Chelsea's 107th birthday proved the perfect day, with Tottenham and Liverpool both losing, and Di Matteo was bullish about completing a flawless eight days against Napoli.
"We will have to be balanced, obviously, because their threat obviously on counter-attacking is very good and they have some players that can hurt you," he said. "When they're going to come here on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge, they will play against a good team, a great team, and we will make their life difficult and try to turn the leg around."
Di Matteo, who hoped Chelsea's greater Champions League experience would tell, would not be drawn on the odds of them pulling off a famous win. "I'll leave that up to you to say how much percentage we have," he said. "We have to believe that we can turn this around and that we can win the game and that's how we're going to go into this game."
Stoke boss Tony Pulis was today considering whether to fine Ricardo Fuller for the horrible stamp on Branislav Ivanovic that saw the striker sent off and ultimately cost the visitors dearly yesterday. It was Fuller's first league start since New Year's Day 2011 and Pulis said: "That makes it doubly disappointing. Coming to Chelsea was going to be difficult enough with 11 men. But I thought the players were fantastic. I thought they worked very, very hard."