Arguably one of the glamour ties in the knockout stages, European Champions Real Madrid taking on the most exciting side in Europe in Sarri’s Napoli.
Real Madrid have a shocking record in knockout ties against Italian opposition, only recently ending a losing streak of seven games, by defeating Roma in last season’s competition and thus going on to win the tournament.
The last Italian side to beat Real Madrid were in fact Juventus who beat the eleven times Champions in the Semi-Finals before going on to lose to Barcelona in the 2015 Final.
In both sides only encounter, Real Madrid defeated a Napoli side captained by Diego Maradona in the first round of 1987/88 European Champion Clubs Cup. Real Madrid won the first leg 2-0 at the Bernabéu before holding the Italians to a 1-1 draw in the second leg at the Stadio San Paolo.
“The first leg is at home and we want to take advantage, to damage our opponents’ hopes – but obviously they can do the same to us. We’re ready for it. Napoli play good football and Sarri is doing a great job as coach, evidenced by their results. It’s going to be a great game.”
“Madrid will always be one of the favourites in this competition. The badge doesn’t guarantee that you’ll win. You have to fight and try to play well. This is a very long road. We know that if we fight, we can always win games. They’re the values of Real Madrid: to always fight until the end with our fans, they really love us.”
“We take risks if we play a defensive game or if we play with our usual style, so I don’t see why we should change. We need to be ourselves, face the match with the idea that we are facing the European champions but it’s important for us to see up to what point we can compete with sides on a world level. The first thing we need to think about is that it is beautiful to play against Real Madrid at the Bernabéu.”
“What I absolutely will not accept is that we lose because we are timorous. If we go out, I want it to be because Real Madrid played better, not because we were afraid to stick our heads round the door.”
Key Players to Watch
Who else? The best player in the world will be up against former Real Madrid defender Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly tonight.
The Portuguese has only two goals to his name in this season’s competition, but currently holds the record for most goals scored in the competition with 95 goals, two ahead of Lionel Messi.
His experience in these knockout matches will be vital for Zidane’s side as they are without Bale and James Rodriguez in attack.
Although the likes of Jose Callejon, Marek Hamsik and Dries Mertens are getting all the attention for their incredible form lately, Insigne has also stepped up his game lately, especially in the big games.
Goals against Milan, Fiorentina and Inter have helped Napoli move up to third in recent weeks.
Looking for weaknesses in this Real Madrid side can be a problem for any manager considering the superstars they have in their team. However, the issue lies at full-back in Dani Carvajal and who Napoli have on that left side. The trio of Ghoulam, Hamsik and Insigne on that left side is a crucial part in how Sarri lines his side up with the majority of their plays going forward from that side of the pitch.