RB Leipzig will hope to gain some invaluable goals and perhaps an advantage in their first leg fixture against Napoli in the UEFA Europa League.
Napoli have set Europe alight with their attacking prowess combined with the exciting football on display, which has made them, along with Manchester City, two of the best teams to watch in Europe. Maurizio Sarri though, will be looking towards his side to put their disappointing Champions League campaign aside and aim for silverware via the Europa League.
RB Leipzig have not had as great a Bundesliga campaign this season. But, they are still a force to be reckoned with, sitting second albeit a massive 18 points behind Bayern Munich. Leipzig have had a similar path to the Europa League knockout phase as their hosts, bowing out of the Champions League group stage.
With both the sides on course to qualify for Champions League next season through their respective league position, their main motivation would be to win some silverware in the current campaign, especially for a club like RB Leipzig, who were formed nearly a decade ago.
Ahead of their Round of 32 encounter, we take a closer look at the two teams.
Team News & Tactics
Sarri does have a few roster issues to deal with, especially with his star man Dries Mertens serving his suspension. January signing Zinedine Machach is eligible to play, but is also suspended and is hence, not in contention to feature.
Sarri’s problems have been compounded by the continued absence of Arkadiusz Milik while the injury to Faouzi Ghoulam and Vlad Chiriches has depleted the defence as well.
Thus, the Napoli boss will likely continue pairing Kalidou Koulibaly and Raul Albiol at the heart of the defence, with Mario Rui and Christian Maggio likely to assume their spots to guard the respective flanks. Maggio though, will have to be careful as a sanction here could see him be suspended for the away leg.
The shortage of strikers is likely to see Sarri deploy Lorenzo Insigne in a central role while Piotr Zielinski and Jose Callejon should assist him from the wings. Marek Hamsik though, will be the key man again for Napoli, with the midfielder one of the very rare players who can find space to shoot and find others with space as well.
Sarri is likely to limit attacks from the wing and will instruct his wingers to cut inside while deploying a more central-minded attacking philosophy.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Reina; Maggio, Albiol, Koulibaly, Rui; Allan, Diawara, Hamsik; Callejon, Insigne, Zielinski
Stefan Ilsanker will miss the tie due to suspension while January arrival Ademola Lookman is ineligible to take the field, having represented Everton in the competition already. Marcel Halstenberg is the only long-term absentee, with Emil Forsberg already returning to training.
The Swede though, was unfit for the match over the weekend and is a doubt for the Europa League tie as well. Willi Orban and Dayot Upamecano are likely to be the centre-back pairing on Thursday. But, Orban could miss the return leg, if he accrues a yellow card on Thursday.
The in-form Timo Werner will be tasked with the responsibility of getting the goal(s) at Napoli so that the club has at least something to take away from the result, in case they do not end up on the winning side.
Probable Lineup (4-2-2-2): Gulacsi; Laimer, Orban, Upamecano, Klostermann; Demme, Keita; Sabitzer, Bruma; Werner, Augustin
1. Lorenzo Insigne will be the man to provide the goals for Sarri’s side, with the forward scoring 3 goals in the Champions League group stage this season.
2. Insigne’s tally has been matched by Timo Werner, who will be Leipzig’s main threat going forward.
3. Napoli are undefeated in 17 of their last 19 UEFA Europa League matches.
4. Napoli come into the game on the back of an imperious 5 game winning streak compared to Leipzig, who have won 3 of their last 5 matches in all competitions.
5. Napoli are yet to win any silverware under Maurizio Sarri, who has not won a major trophy thus far in his managerial career.
Player to Watch
Napoli’s attack might be depleted but it is the defence that will have to be at their very best if they are to end the game as the one with the advantage. Leipzig are known to capitalise on the opposition mistakes and punish them accordingly. Add to that the pace of Bruma and the movement of Werner, and we should see them have a fair number of attempts on goal.
Thus, the scoreline will depend on Reina and his ability to keep the ball out of the Napoli goal.
Napoli 2-1 RB Leipzig
Despite the absence of Dries Mertens, Maurizio Sarri’s men should be good for their money on Thursday. Jose Callejon is likely to get himself on the scoresheet. But, it is the defensive side that should provide cause for worry against an attack-charged RB Leipzig.
Ideally, Napoli should have put some daylight between themselves and Leipzig, but the absence of Mertens is likely to see the home side come out on top, albeit marginally. RB Leizpig though, are unlikely to go home empty-handed and should get one away goal at the very least.