Chelsea revival makes tough viewing for axed Villas-Boas

London: If he was watching it on TV, Chelsea`s great escape against Napoli on Wednesday would probably have been greeted with a rueful shake of his head by recently sacked boss Andre Villas-Boas.

Chelsea have been a side transformed since the Portuguese was sacked on March 4.

They have won all three matches since under caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo, culminating in Wednesday`s 4-1 victory that sealed a 5-4 aggregate victory.

Suddenly, from the look of a club in turmoil, Chelsea are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, the last eight of the FA Cup and are in the mood to fight for a top-four spot in the Premier League, even if the title dream is long gone.

Di Matteo, the former Chelsea midfielder, was mobbed by the players at the end as fans celebrated wildly inside an electrified Stamford Bridge.

The furrowed brows and tension that had accompanied the last few months of Villas-Boas` ill-fated and short reign were replaced by an explosion of joy and relief.

Chelsea`s three vastly experienced generals, skipper John Terry at the heart of the defence, Didier Drogba marauding up front and Frank Lampard`s masterful in midfield, all produced performances that were all too rare under Villas-Boas.

The clock may be ticking loudly on their careers but they proved against Napoli that "player power" need not be a bad thing. While Villas-Boas appeared set on revolution, the seasoned trio showed that they could be vital in Chelsea`s evolution, whoever the next coach is.

Di Matteo was largely calm and composed throughout the match, apart from falling over when Drogba headed in the first Chelsea goal in the 28th minute to restore hope after Napoli had bossed the opening exchanges.

His policy of relying on entrusting the salvation of Chelsea`s season to the old guard is a simple one but, with the players seemingly happy again, it may prove effective.

Asked if Chelsea could have beaten Napoli with Villas-Boas still at the helm, Lampard showed a neat side-step but admitted there was now a desire within the squad to end the season on a high after some dark months.

"You see it time and time again that when a manager changes the fortunes of the team change," Lampard, who was regularly dropped by Villas-Boas, told reporters.

"I don`t know why or whether it`s right or wrong but we have not been consistent in the league and that`s why the owners changed the manager. The players have to give everything."

"A night like tonight showed the desire of the players and with that we can go a long way. Performances like this bring us all together."

Billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, who could hardly wipe the smile off his face as he walked across the pitch after the game, is likely to go for a big name manager in the summer, but Di Matteo has done his chances of being involved no harm at all.

"It`s for the club to decide on the new manager," Lampard said.

"He`s done very well and had three wins out of three so fair play to him. I think Robbie is a Chelsea man and he`s shown that with his heart on his sleeve."

"He told us to concentrate on the basics and play with pride. It`s a great reflection on him that we`ve had three wins. He deserves it."

Di Matteo said he hoped Chelsea`s Champions League heroics will now spark a late-season surge in the league where they are ion fifth place, three points behind Arsenal and four behind Tottenham Hotspur who they face at home this month.

"I have had some great nights (in football) but it will probably go down in the club`s history, coming back from a two-goal deficit from the first leg," the Italian said.

"You saw from the players how they performed. They showed the passion and that they care about the club and the fans. It will give us a big boost for the rest of the season."

Bureau Report

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