Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani again dampened English hopes by leading Napoli to a 3-1 win over Chelsea in an entertaining first leg of their Champions League last-16 matchup.
Cavani, who struck a brace against Manchester City to eliminate the Premier League leaders in the group stage, was again in inspirational form as he gave Napoli the lead at half-time, before setting up Lavezzi’s second in the 65th minute.
Lavezzi had earlier scored with a curling shot to equalise after Juan Mata gave Chelsea a surprise lead following a mistake by Napoli captain Paolo Cannavaro.
Chelsea were without captain John Terry, and the club announced before kick-off that the defender needs knee surgery and will be out for up to six weeks. Terry’s absence told as Napoli breached the Chelsea defence time and again.
It is Chelsea’s fifth match without a win and means there is likely to be no English team in the quarter-finals after Arsenal lost 4-0 at AC Milan last week.
Napoli got off to a bright start and could have taken an early lead but Lavezzi miscontrolled a good through ball from Gokhan Inler and Petr Cech gathered the danger.
As Napoli pressed, a mistake allowed Florent Malouda to rob the ball and race towards goal, but Cannavaro made a perfectly timed tackle just as the Chelsea striker was about to shoot.
The home side almost went in front in the ninth minute when Marek Hamsik picked out a completely unmarked Cavani on the left of the area. Cavani has scored three goals in his last two Serie A games to take his tally to 15, but the Uruguayan was denied by a great leg save from Cech.
Napoli were looking more and more dangerous and seemed certain to take the lead but Chelsea gave an early warning they were not to be ignored when a long throw from Cech to Malouda caught the Napoli defence napping and goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis did well to clear.
However, it was mainly one-way traffic and Christian Maggio saw a fierce cross-goal shot kept out by another impressive Cech dive.
Chelsea stunned the Stadio San Paolo crowd in the 27th minute when Cannavaro gifted the visitors the lead by diverting a cross straight into Mata’s path, and the Spaniard calmly slotted the ball into the left corner.
Napoli drew level in the 38th when Lavezzi collected the ball on the edge of the area before curling it into the bottom right corner past Cech’s outstretched hand.
Cavani put Napoli in front on the stroke of half-time, bundling home Inler’s cross from almost on the goal line for his fifth goal in seven Champions League appearances this season.
Napoli should have extended their advantage when the ever-dangerous Cavani raced down the right flank before releasing Walter Gargano for what looked to be a certain third goal but, one on one with the goalkeeper, he fired narrowly wide of the right upright.