Stadio San Paolo, Naples
Thursday 22nd April, 2015, 19:05 GMT
Wolfsburg will require a major turn of events to get the better of Napoli on Thursday and progress to the semi-finals of the Europa League.Napoli host the German team at the San Paolo stadium, holding a 4-1 advantage from last week’s opening leg. They are unbeaten in 11 European home games and are attempting to reach the last four of a major European competition for the first time since they lifted the UEFA Cup in the 1988-89 campaign.
Napoli, who are battling to qualify for Champions League football next season, warmed up for Thursday’s encounter with a 3-0 triumph at Cagliari on Sunday. The outcome in Sardinia lifted the Benitez’s side to fourth in the standings, one place and five points adrift of Roma, who hold the last Champions League qualifying spot. Wolfsburg travel to the south of Italy knowing that no team has ever progressed in a European tie after losing a home leg by more than two goals. Napoli have conceded just five goals in 11 Europa League games this season. To make the job all the more difficult for Dieter Hecking’s men, midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and forward Andre Schurrle are unavailable. Both players suffered injuries during Sunday’s 1-1 draw at home to Schalke. Sunday’s result left Wolfsburg second in the Bundesliga, 12 points adrift of league leaders Bayern Munich.
Team news and tactical brief
Benitez is a two-time winner of this competition with Valencia in 2004 and Chelsea in 2013, and few would back against him winning it for a third time after the way in which his charges dismantled in-form Wolfsburg last Thursday. It was a victory that consolidated his reputation as a cup specialist, having also won domestic cups in three different countries, but it remains to be seen if even another European title will see him stay with the Partenopei beyond this season.Despite their heroics on the continent, Benitez’s side have suffered from an erratic couple of months that has hindered their hopes of securing a top-three finish in Serie A – Champions League qualification.
Napoli sit five points off the pace in fourth, having endured a rotten March in which they drew two and lost two, with a 1-0 defeat to third-placed Roma at the beginning of April particularly damaging to their cause. Yet, things have looked a little brighter in recent weeks as Napoli beat second-placed Fiorentina and Cagliari with back-to-back league victories for the first time since February, but speculation continues to mount over Benitez’s future in Italy, with his contract scheduled to expire at the end of the season. It remains to be seen if either party wants an extension in place, but the players must continue to shelve the off-the-field matters surrounding their manager and focus on securing a semi-final spot when the Germans come to town. By virtue of his side’s 4-1 cushion, coupled with their pursuit of Champions League qualification in Serie A, Benitez may opt to bench a few of the players that helped secure the first-leg advantage. The Spaniard is only missing two players in Michu and Walter Gargano – who was on the bench last week – as both players suffer from thigh injuries.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Andujar(Gk); Albiol, Ghoulam, Koulibaly, Henrique; Inler, David Lopez; Hamsik, Mertens, Jose Callejon; Higuain
Having beaten Sporting Lisbon – who dropped into the competition after bowing out of the Champions League – in the last 32, before annihilating Inter Milan 5-2 on aggregate in the last round, Dieter Hecking’s side had as strong a claim to this season’s Europa League as any. Yet, they travel to Naples with a task that looks impossible to achieve after effectively signing away their hopes of a first European title in the club’s history with an abject performance at the Volkswagen Arena last week. Even a 3-0 win on the night, against a side who have not conceded more than three goals in a game all season, would see the visitors eliminated from the competition.
In truth, their 4-1 thumping was made all the more surprising given the Germans’ stunning Bundesliga form. Prior to being humbled by Napoli, Hecking’s charges had won six of their last eight league outings to sit second in the standings with a seven-point cushion. It was not meant to be this way for Die Wolfe, yet the experience of it could stand them in good stead if and when they enter the Champions League next season. Meanwhile, Wolfsburg’s Aaron Hunt, who missed last week’s defeat, is expected to miss out again through a knee injury. Bas Dost will spearhead the Germans’ attack and, with 16 goals in 19 starts in all competitions this season, Hecking needs his star striker firing if they are to have any hopes of resurrecting their Europa League campaign. Nicklas Bendtner, who netted that consolation at the Volkswagen Arena, could be recalled to the matchday squad after being dropped for their 1-1 draw with Schalke at the weekend for turning up late to training.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1):Benaglio(Gk); Jung, Naldo, Knoche, Rodriguez; Guilavogui, Gustavo; Perisic, Arnold, Caligiuri; Dost
- Napoli have been winning at both half time and full time in 5of their last 6 matches in UEFA Europa League.
- Napoli have won 5 of their last 6 matches in UEFA Europa League.
- Napoli boast a 100% win record against their German counterparts, with last week’s victory being the first time that both sides had met on a competitive stage.
Players to Watch Out For
Gonzalo Higua n (Napoli)
Gonzalo Higuain will hope to continue his fine record in this season’s Europa League. The former Real Madrid striker netted the opener at the Volkswagen Arena last week to take his tally to seven goals in 11 appearances in the tournament this term.
Bas Dost (Wolfsburg)
Bas Dost will spearhead the Germans’ attack and, with 16 goals in 19 starts in all competitions this season, Hecking needs his star striker firing if they are to have any hopes of resurrecting their Europa League campaign.
Napoli 1a 1 Wolfsburg
Napoli trounced Wolfsburg by four goals to one in the first leg of this tie, and after following that up with a 3-0 win over Cagliari at the weekend, will be confident of progressing here. They have now scored 10 goals in their last 3 games and seem to be hitting form in time to mount a charge for Champions League qualification and Europa League glory. Wolfsburg’s European hopes are hanging by a thread, and they would do well to get a result from this one, let alone coming close to qualifying.
Blast From the Past
Napolia s clash with Wolfsburg last week was the first time that both sides had met on a competitive stage.