Stadio San Paolo, Naples
Thursday 7th May, 2015, 19:05 GMT
Napoli meet Ukrainian outsiders Dnipro in the semi finals of the Europa League and the Italian side are favorites to take a first leg lead on Thursday night. Napoli have lost just one game in this competition this season, a group stage match away at Young Boys. The have been impressive in the first legs of their three knockout rounds so far, the first of which saw them beat Turkish side Trabzonspor 4-0 away from home and they also won the return 1-0. In the Round of 16 Napoli were 3-1 winners at home to Dinamo Moscow and they played out a goalless draw in Russia in the second leg. Wolfsburg provided the opposition in the quarter finals and once again Napoli took control in the first leg, winning 4-1 in Germany and playing out a 2-2 draw in the second meeting. Domestically Napoli are fourth in Serie A four points behind third placed Lazio who occupy the last of the qualification spots for the Champions League next season. There are still four rounds of matches to take place and a 3-0 home win over Milan at the weekend keeps their hopes alive.
Dnipro came through the group stage with Inter Milan and in the first of the knockout rounds they were 4-2 aggregate winners against Olympiakos, winning the first leg 2-0 on home soil. In the Round of 16 Dnipro beat Ajax 1-0 in the first leg in Ukraine and although they lost the return in Amsterdam 2-1 in extra time, they went through on the away goals rule. In the quarter finals a 0-0 draw away at Club Bruge and a 1-0 home win the second leg was enough to take Dnipro through. Dnipro are second in the Ukrainian Premier League, three points behind Dynamo Kyiv and two in front of Shakhtar although they have played one game more than their rivals. They have accumulated more points on the road than they have at home in their domestic campaign, winning nine, drawing one and losing one of 11 away fixtures.
Team news and tactical brief
Rafael Benitez’s Napoli earned an impressive win over Wolfsburg in the last round to book their place in the semi-finals, triumphing 6-3 on aggregate. A convincing 4-1 victory in Germany all but sealed their place in the last four of the competition before a 2-2 draw on home soil saw confirmed their progress. Winning the Europa League could be their only passage into next season’s Champions League following an indifferent few weeks in Serie A. The Neapolitans currently sit in fourth place in the table, four points adrift of the coveted top three positions and with four games left to play. However, four victories from their previous six matches have boosted their hopes of securing a top-three finish. The team’s last outing saw them overcome 10-man AC Milan 3-0 at the Stadio San Paolo.
Despite Napoli’s strong run in the Europa League and a respectable domestic showing, Benitez’s future at the club remains unclear. Amid rumours that he could return to England in the summer, president Aurelio De Laurentiis has admitted that he would like the Spaniard to continue at the helm. Whether Benitez remains in charge of Napoli remains to be seen, but the 55-year-old has every chance of ending the season on a high with Champions League football and Europa League glory. Napoli have no fresh injury concerns heading into the match, though forward Michu remains sidelined with a thigh problem. With bottom-placed Parma up next in the league this weekend, the hosts are unlikely to hold any players back for this match. There will be little reason for Rafa Benitez to change things too much from the 3-0 win over AC Milan at the weekend. Gokhan Inler could come back into midfield, while Dries Mertens could return to the wing. Michu and Jonathan De Guzman remain injured, while Ivan Strinic is cup-tied.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Andujar(Gk); Maggio, Albiol, Britos, Ghoulam; Inler, Lopez, Callejon, Hamsik, Insigne; Higuain
This is Dnipro’s best season in 25 years, Myron Markevych a at the helm since last summer a making light of injuries and player departures. With the team second in the Ukrainian Premier-Liha, a point behind FC Shakhtar Donetsk (whom they meet in the Ukrainian Cup semi-finals), there is a feeling the momentum is with them going into their first UEFA semi-final. The 64-year-old coach knows how to get the most out of his players on the big occasion. Judicious squad rotation has left Dnipro in good shape, with Markevych having plenty of tried-and-tested back-up options in most positions. Key man Yevhen Konoplyanka is also approaching his best form, having shown what he is capable of against AFC Ajax and Club Brugge KV this spring. Dnipro reached their first European semi-final last month when they knocked out Club Brugge to make it through to the last four of the Europa League. The Ukrainians drew the first leg 0-0 in Belgium before Evgeniy Shakhov’s late strike in the reverse fixture earned them a decisive 1-0 victory over the Belgians. Myron Markevych’s side will travel to Italy full of confidence after losing just one of their previous 11 matches in all competitions. Out of those 11 games, eight have ended as wins for Dnipro.
One the domestic front, Dnipro currently sit in second place in the Ukrainian Premier League, six points behind Dynamo Kiev. They have not lost any of their last eight league games, while their most recent result saw them defeat Chornomorets 3-0 away. While Dnipro have enjoyed an unprecedented run in this season’s Europa League, their form away from home has been patchy. With three defeats, four draws and just one victory to their name, the visitors are expected to find life difficult against Napoli. That said, having already defeated the likes of Brugge, Ajax and Olympiacos this season, Dnipro could well give themselves a solid platform on which to build during the second leg. Napoli will certainly be wary of their opponents because they away side are more than capable of springing an upset. The away side will be without Roman Zozulya, who is still nursing a knee injury, while Matheus is doubtful because of a back concern. Valeriy Fedorchuk returns from suspension in the last round and will provide another option in central midfield. Egidio could be fit to return.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1):Boyko(Gk); Douglas, Cheberyachko, Fedetskiy, Egidio; Kankava, Rotan; Konoplyanka, Bezus, Luchkevych; Kalinic
- Napoli’s Ben tez is seeking to become the first coach to lead three teams to UEFA Cup.
- Dnipro’s record in eight UEFA games against Italian sides is: W1 D1 L6.
- Napoli are top scorers in the current UEFA Europa League with 25 goals since the start of the group phase.
- Napoli have not reached the semi-finals of a major UEFA tournament since they won the UEFA Cup in 1988/89, beating VfB Stuttgart over two legs in the final.
- Dnipro’s biggest previous European successes were making it to the quarter-finals of the European Champion Clubs’ Cup in 1984/85 and 1989/90.
- Dnipro are Napoli’s only previous Ukrainian opponents.
Players to Watch Out For
Gonzalo Higua n (Napoli)
Higua n has scored 26 goals in all competitions this term but the 27-year-old is also contributing in terms of assists and leadership.
Denys Boyko (Dnipro)
Goalkeepr Denys Boyko recently made his Ukraine debut and is full of confidence after registering clean sheets in four of Dnipro’s six knockout games.
Napoli 2a 1 Dnipro
Dnipro snuck through the last round after breaking a two-legged goalless deadlock against Club Bruges with a winner after 172 minutes of action, but they will need to be much improved if they are to overcome a resurgent Napoli this week. Rafa Benitez’s side have won 5 and lost only 1 of their last 7 matches and will want to win this first leg by a significant enough margin to mean they go to Ukraine with something to defend. Napoli should come out of this with a victory having beaten Milan 3-0 at the weekend, though they may not be able to repeat that scoreline.
Blast From the Past
These clubs met in the group stage of the 2012/13 UEFA Europa League. Dnipro won the home leg 3-1 but Napoli won the return leg 4-2.