Volkswagen Arena, Wolfsburg
Thursday 16th April, 2015, 19:05 GMT
Wolfsburg and Napoli continue their Europa League campaigns on Thursday when they meet at the Volkswagen Arena in the first leg of the quarter-finals. The Germans saw off Inter Milan in the last round, while the Italians defeated Dynamo Moscow to seal their progress. Napoli will have their greatest test so far in this seasona s Europa League when they play against Wolfsburg on Thursday night. The Partenopei will travel to Germany for the first leg of the quarter finals on the 55th birthday of their coach Rafa Benitez, but it wona t be easy for his team to make it one to remember. Napoli have not played against strong opposition so far and they will be facing an in-form Wolfsburg team. On the other hand, the Neapolitans shouldna t be written off too quickly. Beniteza s team have scored three times or more in a match on five occasions in the Europa League this season a the latest one was the 3-1 home win against Dinamo Moscow a but their opponents were not of outstanding quality. Swiss side Young Boys was Napolia s strongest opponent in Group I and they are currently ranked 66th in UEFAa s club rankings. The Partenopei destroyed Turkish team Trabzonspor 5-0 on aggregate in the Round of 32, who are currently ranked 59th in Europe. Napoli have not been in impressive form recently in Serie A however. Their 3-0 win against Fiorentina on Sunday was their first Serie A win in six rounds, which brought them to fourth place in the league.
In contrast, Wolfsburg are in second place in the German Bundesliga and Dieter Heckinga s squad have only lost once in their last 16 league matches. Wolfsburg have reached the quarter finals of the Europa League by eliminating stronger opposition than Napoli in this campaign. Despite losing both Group H games to Everton, Wolfsburg finished just one point behind them. Heckinga s team eliminated Portuguese giants Sporting Clube 2-0 on aggregate in the Round of 32 and they have already demonstrated their supremacy over Italian opposition when they eliminated Inter 5-2 on aggregate in the Round of 16.
Team news and tactical brief
Wolfsburg were dominant in the last round as they secured their passage into the last eight with a convincing 5-2 aggregate victory over Inter Milan.The Germans did most of the damage with a 3-1 win in the first leg before earning a 2-1 triumph at San Siro on March 19.Dieter Hecking’s side have been in superb form as of late, putting together a seven-game unbeaten run in all competitions that has included six wins. While the Bundesliga title race looks to be over as Bayern Munich race towards glory, Wolfsburg remain the Bavarians’ nearest challengers in the table. Three wins and a draw from their last four matches mean that they are 10 points behind Pep Guardiola’s runaway leaders. They head into Thursday’s encounter on the back of a 2-0 win away at struggling Hamburger SV, with Josua Guilavogui and Daniel Caligiuri scoring the goals in that game.
However, Wolfsburg will be looking to Kevin De Bruyne and Bas Dost to fire them into the semi-finals. The pair have found the net 22 times between them so far this season. Dost is currently the team’s top scorer with 13 goals in all competitions.Wolfsburg midfielder Aaron Hunt will miss the game due to a knee problem, but Dieter Hecking has no further injury concerns to worry about. Andre Schurrle could start the match after settling for a place on the bench against Hamburg. Luiz Gustavo was suspended for the weekend win over Hamburg, but could come in here in place of Maximilian Arnold. Elsewhere, Hecking may opt against making wholesale changes for this fixture.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Benaglio(Gk); Vieirinha, Naldo, Knoche, Rodriguez; Guilavogui, Gustavo; Perisic, De Bruyne, Caligiuri; Dost
Napoli coach Rafael Benitez will want to make it a 55th birthday to remember when he takes his players to Germany. The Spaniard’s future has recently come under question, with some reports suggesting that he could take over at Manchester City should Manuel Pellegrini get the boot. Benitez guided the Neapolitans into the last four thanks to a 3-1 aggregate win over Dynamo Moscow. A comfortable first-leg victory all but sealed their place in the next round before the sides played out a goalless draw in Russia. This is the first time that Napoli have reached the quarter-finals of a European tournament since 1989. That year, they went all the way to the final in the UEFA Cup before beating Stuttgart over two legs. Despite enjoying a strong run in Europe, Napoli have seen their Serie A title bid fall by the wayside in recent weeks due to a poor run of form. While they got back to winning ways on the weekend against Fiorentina, a five-game winless run before that has seen them slip 20 points behind leaders Juventus.
As for Napoli’s dangermen, Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon have been in solid form all season. Higuain has 13 goals to his name, while Callejon has found the net 10 times so far. Walter Gargano and Michu are both sidelined for the visitors with thigh injuries while Marek Hamsik may return to the starting XI. Rafa Benitez must make do without injured duo Walter Gargano and Michu for the trip to Bundesliga side Wolfsburg. Gokhan Inler could replace Gargano alongside David Lopez in the midfield. Marek Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne are both pushing for starts, but may be forced to settle for spots on the bench once more.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Andujar(Gk); Albiol, Strinic, Koulibaly, Maggio; Inler, David Lopez; Hamsik, Mertens, Jose Callejon; Higuain
- Napoli have kept a clean sheet in 6 of their last 7 matches in UEFA Europa League.
- Napoli are undefeated in their last 7 matches in UEFA Europa League.
- Wolfsburg are undefeated in their last 5 matches in UEFA Europa League.
Players to Watch Out For
Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg)
In a campaign in which Wolfsburg have led the chasing pack behind Bayern Munich, De Bruyne has been the Bundesligaa s outstanding individual. In fact, as the stats suggest, only Arjen Robben will be able to challenge him for the Bundesligaa s Player of the Year when the season reaches its conclusion.
Gonzalo Higua n (Napoli)
Although Gonzalo Higuain has not scored in the last four Serie A matches, he remains Napolia s most prolific marksman in the Europa League with six goals in this campaign. Along with Club Bruggea s Lior Refaelov, he has scored more goals than any other play left in the competition.
Wolfsburg 3a 2 Napoli
Wolfsburg have lost just once in their last 23 competitive games and come into this Europa League tie on a fine run of form. While the Bundesliga side have laboured in the Europa League at times this campaign, Dieter Hecking will demand a focused display from his players on Thursday night. Napoli’s impressive 3-0 home win over Fiorentina ended a 5-game winless run. They need to build on that victory now, but could struggle against an in-form Wolfsburg side, especially away from home. Wolfsburg have won their last 9 competitive fixtures at the Volkswagen Arena and should make it 10 with the welcome of Napoli here.
Blast From the Past
Wolfsburg and Napoli have never met each other in a competitive fixture.