Real Madrid will be hosted by a Napoli side desperate to cause an upset at the Stadio San Paolo, in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League Round Of 16 tie.
Napoli face the daunting uphill task of trying to overturn a 2 goals deficit against the Champions of Europe. They put up a great fight against Los Blancos in the first leg, but were ultimately undone by their lack of experience, quality and some silly mistakes.
Both sides are coming off some important, confidence boosting League victories, but Real will likely be the more rested team going into this match. We can expect a lot of goals in this game and with the Stadio San Paolo likely be in full voice tonight, it will be interesting to see how Napoli use their away goal and their home support to their advantage.
Probable Lineups and Tactics
Only midfielder Allan and defender Lorenzo Tonelli are doubtful to feature for Maurizio Sarri’s side going into this tie but otherwise he will have all his players fit and no new injury concerns for tonight. Barring one change, the Italian will likely field an unchanged side from their win over AS Roma.
Faouzi Ghoulam, Kalidou Koulibaly, Raul Albiol and Elseid Hysaj will make up Napoli’s defence and Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Callejon will make up Napoli’s attacking trident upfront. Arkadiusz Milik’s return from injury will also provide Sarri with another option upfront.
Perhaps with the exception of Captain Marek Hamsik, nobody else’s place is assured in midfield. Marko Rog started their last match, but it is unlikely that he will start this one. Sarri can pick from Piotr Zielinski, Amadou Diawara and Jorginho to fill the 2 remaining places in midfield.
Predicted Starting XI(4-3-3): Reina; Ghoulam, Koulibaly, Albiol, Hysaj; Hamsik, Jorginho, Zielinski; Insigne, Mertens, Callejon
Only Fabio Coentrao and Raphael Varane haven’t travelled with Zinedine Zidane’s squad as they are still nursing their injuries, otherwise Zidane has a full strength squad to chose from and he will have Gareth Bale available for a Champions League tie for the first time since November.
In their 4-1 victory over Eibar a few days ago, Zidane had rested 4 first team regulars while Gareth Bale missed out due to suspension. Marcelo, Carvajal, Kroos and Ronaldo were all left out of the starting XI and they are all expected to take to the field tonight.
Marcelo will likely replace Nacho Fernandez at left-back with Carvajal coming in for Danilo on the other flank. James Rodriguez, who put in a stellar performance at the Ipurua will probably make way for Toni Kroos in the middle of the park.
Youngsters Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez both started on either side of Karim Benzema as a part of Real Madrid’s front 3 and while they put in impressive performances, they too will likely be sacrificed for Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to complete the ‘BBC’ trident
Predicted Starting XI(4-3-3): Navas; Marcelo, Pepe, Ramos, Carvajal; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale
- Real Madrid haven’t failed to qualify from their last 8 Champions League ties in the Round Of 16 or after, when they have won the first leg.
- Napoli have lost just 1 of their last 10 Champions League home fixtures.
- Real Madrid have lost just 1 of their previous 9 Champions League fixtures.
- Real Madrid have won just 1 of their previous 9 Champions League fixtures in Italy.
- Karim Benzema has scored in all of his last 4 Champions League games.
- Cristiano Ronaldo has no scored in 523 Champions League minutes.
Players To Watch
Real Madrid: Gareth Bale
The Welshman is set to return to the Champions League tonight after nearly 4 months away. Bale’s last Champions League appearances came in the Group stage, in a 1-2 victory against Sporting CP at the Estádio José Alvalade XXI in Portugal.
After returning from a long injury lay off, the 27-year-old was sent off in their 1-2 loss against Valencia and missed their last outing against Eibar. Bale will surely be looking to make amends for being unavailable for this side when they most needed him and the San Paolo is the best place to begin.
Napoli 2-2 Real Madrid
While Napoli’s away goal should help their cause, overturning a 2 goal deficit at home against a side with Real Madrid’s quality and experience seems too big an ask, even if it they will be boosted by the presence of their home fans.
It is clear that all the pressure is on Real Madrid in this game and with the score being at 1-3, this tie is their’s to lose. Napoli will come at them with full force and they have enough quality in their squad to pull off what seems like a miracle.
Los Blancos will have to maintain their focus and ensure that the complacency doesn’t set in. They cannot sit back and defend and try to soak up the attacking pressure for most of the game, at least not without launching attacks of their own.
In the first leg, the Champions managed to put 3 past the Partenopei without playing to their full potential, but Zidane will know very well that they cannot afford to be anything other than their very best at the San Paolo tonight.