Napoli look to upset Real Madrid in the second leg of their Round of 16 match-up in the Champions League at the Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday. Real Madrid lead 3-1 on aggregate, which leaves a tough challenge for the Partenopei.
Napoli Form: LWLLW (All Competitions)
Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli bounced back from a short rough skid by defeating Roma 2-1 at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday. The club had lost two straight matches before the showdown in Rome. Dries Mertens scored both goals for Napoli and an overall impressive performance lead the team to victory. The win avenged a 3-1 loss to Roma at home earlier this season. Not only that, but it cut Napoli’s deficit for second place back down to just two points behind the Giallorossi. The win is just what the Partenopei needed – one against a top opponent – as the team aims to have an incredible performance against the champions of Europe. Napoli’s offense will need to click from the start and the defense will have to keep Real Madrid in check in order to knock it out of the tournament.
Real Madrid Form: WLWDW
Real Madrid also bounced back with a win on Saturday. Los Blancos had drawn 3-3 with Las Palmas on Wednesday at the Santiago Bernabéu, which is an unlikely result. On Saturday however, Zinedine Zidane and his men went on the road to play Eibar and defeated the club 4-1. The win brought Real Madrid back within a point of first place Barcelona. Karim Benzema scored two goals in the victory and will take the confidence into the match against Napoli. Benzema scored a goal against Napoli in the first leg between the clubs. If Real Madrid can get an away goal at the San Paolo, it will be in good shape to advance to the next round of the Champions League.
Head to Head
- This is the fourth overall match between the two clubs. The first two meetings came in the first round of the 1987/88 European Champion Clubs Cup.
- Real Madrid has beat Napoli twice and drawn once.
- The last time Real Madrid came to the San Paolo, the result was a 1-1 draw.
Projected Starting Lineups and Probable Formations
Napoli Projected Starting XI (4-3-3): Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Zielinski, Diawara, Hamsik (C); Callejon, Mertens, Insigne.
Real Madrid Projected Starting XI (4-3-3): Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Lucas Vazquez, Benzema, Ronaldo (C).
Players to Watch
The Belgian received the start over Arkadiusz Milik against Roma on Saturday and produced. Mertens scored both goals to lift his club over Roma in the 2-1 win. His two goals brought him to 18 goals on the season in the Serie A and 22 goals total. Mertens lifted the ball right over Roma’s keeper for his first goal, and then connected on the end of a Lorenzo Insigne assist in the box to slot away his second.
Mertens should see another start against the European champions after his performances on Saturday. He will be one to watch, especially if Napoli want to have a chance of defeating Real Madrid. Mertens will have to deal with the opposing defense of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane though. The defenders have a clear size advantage over Mertens, but the forward has the ability to create chances. The Partenopei will need Mertens at the top of his game.
Simply put, the midfield battle will be one to watch in this match. The Napoli midfield will have to face the likes of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the midfield. Kroos and Modric facilitate movement of their team, and the Azzurri will have to counteract that. Diawara, although only 19 years-old, has shown that he can play against the big clubs.
The young midfielder boasts an 89.5 percent pass success rate in the Serie A this season, according to whoscored.com. Diawara also averages 1.6 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per game in the league. However, in Champions League play, his tackle average bumps up to 2.2 tackles per game. The number is a clear example of the Diawara playing up to the bigger matches. Napoli will need Diawara to be very involved in the midfield in order to succeed.
At 31 years-old, Modric is still one of the most effective midfielders in the game. Real Madrid’s midfield moves through the Croatian and his play-making ability. Modric’s only has two assists on the season, but the number is misleading. Modric passes the ball at a 87.9 percent success rate in all competitions.
Not only does Modric move the ball offensively, but he is very involved on the defensive end. The midfielder averages 1.5 tackles and 2.2 interceptions per game in all competitions. He also averages a foul per game and has picked up three yellow cards. Modric is not afraid to step in for a tackle. Real Madrid will look for the Croatian to get the ball moving on offense as well as be able to rely on him to stop Napoli’s midfield.
Marcelo has earned the reputation of being good defensively at the left-back position, but also attacking up the flank on offense. The Brazilian will have to defend Jose Callejon the left side of the field. Callejon is a big part of Napoli’s offense, so Marcelo will have to limit the Spaniard to lessen the danger for Real Madrid’s defense.
On the other side of the ball, Marcelo will attack the right side of Napoli’s defense, which includes right-back Elseid Hysaj. Hysaj hasn’t been as effective as he was last season, so Marcelo may be able to have success on the right flank. The fullback has two goals and six assists in all competitions this season, so the threat is there for Napoli.
The San Paolo crowd will be as loud as ever for this match and it could very well carry Napoli to a victory. There is no doubt that the Partenopei have the ability to score goals, and lots of them. However, it seems unrealistic to think that Napoli will be able to keep Real Madrid scoreless in this match, even if they are at home. Both teams should be able to get on the score-sheet. Napoli can win this game, but it might not be enough to knock out the reigning champions.