Napoli are hoping to kickstart their UEFA Europa League campaign on a positive note when they take on AZ Alkmaar on Thursday.

The 2020/21 edition of the UEFA Europa League gets underway on Thursday with Napoli starting their campaign with a home game against AZ Alkmaar.

The Italian giants have had an eventful start to the new season, securing three wins in four league matches. They have particularly impressed with their impressive scoring record, having netted twelve goals so far, six of which have come in the thumping win over Genoa earlier in the campaign.

Europa League, however, could be a different ballgame as Napoli have already drawn against tricky sides like AZ Alkmaar, Real Sociedad and Rijeka. So on Thursday, it could be imperative for Gennaro Gattuso’s men to kickstart their campaign on a positive note.

Alkmaar, too, will be eyeing a similar objective, though unlike Napoli, they have had a disastrous start to the new season, notably drawing all four of their league matches so far.

After finishing level on points with Ajax last season, the Cheeseheads have failed to live up to the expectations, especially following the departure of Oussama Idrissi. And here, at the Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of this fascinating contest in the UEFA Europa League this midweek.

Tactics & Team News

SSC Napoli

Eljif Elmas and Piotr Zielinski cannot feature in this game after testing positive for Covid-19 while the likes of Arkadiusz Milik, Kevin Malcuit and Fernando Llorente are believed to be unavailable. It shouldn’t deter Gattuso, though, with the Italian head coach likely to persist with his tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation.

Zielinski has tested positive for coronavirus (Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)

Zielinski has tested positive for coronavirus (Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)

Despite the strenuous run of fixtures, both key defenders in Kalidou Koulibaly and Kostas Manolas should continue in central defence, while Elseid Hysaj could make way for Faouzi Ghoulam at left-back. Malcuit’s potential absence, however, means that Giovanni Di Lorenzo could continue on the opposite flank.

In midfield, Gattuso could ring in a few changes with Stanislav Lobotka featuring alongside Diego Demme in the double divot, at the expense of Tiemoue Bakayoko and Fabian Ruiz, although the latter could be used as a second-half substitute.

Zielinski’s absence, meanwhile, could force Napoli to continue with Dries Mertens in the attacking midfield role, with the Belgian providing support to lone striker Victor Osimhen. Andrea Petagna could also be an option for Gattuso in the number nine slot.

Elsewhere, Hirving Lozano could retain his place at left wing following an incredible performance in the last game. Matteo Politano may also continue on the opposite flank as the Partenopei do not have a viable alternative at the moment.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Demme, Lobotka; Politano, Mertens, Lozano; Osimhen.

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AZ Alkmaar

AZ Alkmaar are running the risk of missing at least 13 players due to Coronavirus this week. Although the names have not been disclosed, the likes of Ron Vlaar, Timo Letschert, Jordy Clasie, Ferdy Druijf, Zakaria Aboukhlal, Hakon Evjen, Juan Familia-Castillo and star striker Myron Boadu are among players set to miss out against Napoli.

As a result, coach Arne Slot, devoid of options, has called up a bunch of young players for the trip to Naples including Maxim Gullit, Kenzo Goudmijn, and Mo Taabouni, though none of them are likely to make the starting lineup.

Nevertheless, Slot has preferred a 4-3-3 and that is unlikely to change this week, with the back four, consisting of Jonas Svensson, Pantelis Chatzidiakos, Bruno Martins Indi and Owen Wijndal looking to provide cover for Marco Bizot as Alkmaar’s primary objective will be to avoid conceding any goals against a strong Napoli attack.

Club captain Teun Koopmeinier could play a key role in midfield, providing solidity in the second line of press alongside Fredrik Midtsjo, with Dani de Wit looking to create chances in a slightly more advanced role.

And finally, the AZ attack is likely to be spearheaded by Myron Boadu, with additional support from the two wide attackers in Albert Gudmundsson and Jesper Karlsson. However, a lot could change as the club is yet to provide any update on the team situation ahead of the clash.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Bizot; Svensson, Chatzidiakos, Martins Indi, Wijndal; Midtso, Koopmeiners, De Wit; Gudmundsson, Boadu, Karlsson.

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Key Stats

  • This will be the first competitive meeting between Napoli and AZ Alkmaar.
  • Napoli have won just one of their last seven encounters against Dutch opposition in European competition, beating Feyenoord 3-1 during the 2017/18 Champions League group stages.
  • AZ have lost each of their previous two away matches in Europe against Italian opposition, losing to Inter in November in 1982 and Udinese in March 2012.
  • Napoli have won each of their last seven group stage matches in the Europa League and remain unbeaten since a 2-0 defeat to Swiss side BSC Young Boys back in October 2014.
  • Since the competition’s rebranding, AZ have won just five of their 26 away Europa League games, at a win rate of just 19% – the lowest ratio of any side to have played at least 26 games in the competition during this period.

Player to Watch

Hirving Lozano

Time for Lozano to pull his socks up and perform for Napoli (Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)

Time for Lozano to pull his socks up and perform for Napoli (Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)

Hirving Lozano is clearly the man to watch out for this week, having showcased astounding form in Serie A so far this campaign.

The Mexican international is Napoli’s top scorer with four goals in three matches. He has the dynamism as well as the ability to drift past the opposing players that could be useful against his depleted AZ side this midweek.

Especially with Zielinski out, the onus will be on Lozano to provide the creative essence in the final third. His performance in this fixture could, in fact, go a long way in shaping Napoli’s fate in this game. It will also be interesting to see how AZ plan to contain the 25-year-old this midweek.

Prediction

SSC Napoli 2-0 AZ Alkmaar

Napoli have impressed the onlookers with their goalscoring form in the league this season. And there is absolutely no reason why they might fail to continue that record in this fixture, especially against an AZ side who are missing out key players. So we do expect a comfortable 2-0 victory for the hosts in this one.

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