In normal time, Didier Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard all found the net for a mirror image of Napoli’s first leg win — the night Andre Villas-Boas infamously began with Lampard and Ashley Cole on the bench and inadvertently began the countdown towards his sacking.
Roberto Di Matteo, AVB’s temporary replacement, had no qualms about trusting the old guard and they repaid his faith, although Napoli played their part in a breathtaking night of football at Stamford Bridge.
The first 25 minutes were frantic and it was not long before Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech made an important stop with his legs to deny Marek Hamsik.
Napoli counterattacked at speed and again, Chelsea hearts were in their mouths when Edinson Cavani, sliding in at the far post to meet Christian Maggio’s cross, found the side of the net rather than the back of it.
Again Napoli found a route through and again Cech had to block Ezequiel Lavezzi’s shot. A long-ranger from Hamsik soon followed and the over-worked Cech dived to keep that out as well.
Juan Mata put the ball in the Napoili net straight after that but the flag had already been raised. No matter, Chelsea, despite having been utterly outplayed, then took the lead in the 28th minute and a typical English-style goal it was too — a cross from the left from Ramires that Drogba headed powerfully past De Sanctis.
The goal transformed Chelsea and Daniel Sturridge’s ball across the box was flicked away to safety by Hugo Campagnaro before Drogba could pounce.
The corner was cleared though and another lightning quick counter saw Cavani fire across goal and wide.
Sturridge was next to have a go and his header bounced just wide before Napoli were forced into a change, with ex-Liverpool man Andrea Dossena replacing Christian Maggio.
There was time for one more chance before the break but David Luiz’s ball across the box was blocked by Paolo Cannavaro as Drogba lurked.
Within two minutes of the second period, however, Chelsea were 2-0 up. Campagnaro panicked to concede a needless corner and when Lampard delivered it, Terry was there to send a looping header over De Sanctis.
Chelsea hadn’t conceded at all at home in Champions League action this term but Inler changed that in the 55th minute to put the Italians back in control. Terry headed a cross only as far as the Swiss, who chested it down and dispatched it low into a corner.
Di Matteo had been in the process of sending defender Jose Bosingwa on just as Napoli scored and decided to give Fernando Torres a go, with the £50million man replacing Sturridge.
Torres set up Ivanovic for a fierce drive that stung De Sanctis’s palms before the keeper pulled off the save of the match to keep out Drogba’s curler on the turn.
Then came the big moment; a penalty 15 minutes before the end, when Ivanovic’s header hit Dossena on the arm. Lampard made no mistake to make it 3-1 on the night, and 4-4 on aggregate.
Ivanovic headed the first extra time chance wide before Hamsik’s volley dropped just wide at the other end and Chelsea refreshed tired legs by replacing Terry and Mata with Florent Malouda and Bosingwa.
Suddenly there was a chance for Torres as De Sanctis misjudged a bouncing ball but the angle was too tight for the Spaniard to end his goal drought.
Ivanovic showed him how it was done after Ramires had set Drogba up for the most inviting cross a defender could ever wish for and the big defender made no mistake.
Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal may all be above Chelsea in the Premier League table but it is the beaten 2008 finalists alone who remain flying the flag for England the Europe’s elite competition.
CHELSEA (4-3-3): Cech 8; Ivanovic 8, Terry 8 (Bosingwa 98, 6), Luiz 8, Cole 7; Essien 7, Ramires 7, Lampard 8; Sturridge 6 (Torres 63, 6), Drogba 8, Mata 7 (Malouda 95, 5).
NAPOLI (3-4-1-2): De Sanctis 7; Campagnaro 6, Cannavaro 7, Aronica 6 (Vargas 110, 5); Maggio 7 (Dossena 36, 6), Inler 7, Gargano 6, Zuniga 6; Hamsik 7; Cavani 7, Lavezzi 7.
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany).