WILL DYER (@w2Dyer) gives us the lowdown on Napoli's attempt to overturn Real Madrid's two-goal cushion in Tuesday night's Champions League Last 16 second leg encounter.
Napoli vs Real Madrid | Tuesday 19:45 | BT Sport 3
Tuesday night sees Napoli return to the Stadio San Paolo and attempt to overturn a two-goal deficit to Real Madrid from the first leg at Santiago Bernabeu.
Maurizio Sarri’s men have been lauded as the most exciting attacking team in Europe this season; obviously there’s plenty of competition for that (Monaco would have strong claims) but it goes to show just how well they are playing.
At the weekend, Napoli visited the Stadio Olimpico in Rome and took down Roma’s 15-game home winning streak in the Serie A with a 2-1 away victory. The Wolves had not lost at the Olimpico in domestic competition since December 2015; a 26-game unbeaten streak against their compatriots.
The Partenopei had been in mixed form, with three defeats in their last four matches, before travelling there but after that victory and Juventus’ subsequent draw away to Udinese, it’s given them a faint chance at the title.
Napoli have lost just one of their last 11 Champions League games in Naples. That was a 3-2 reverse to Besiktas earlier in this campaign.
In that period though, since 2011, they’ve beaten Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, Benfica and drawn with Bayern Munich. Based on that history alone you’d have to say that Madrid have a game on their hands.
Los Blancos have faltered in their pursuit of a first La Liga title since 2011/12. Defeat to Valencia and a draw with Villarreal saw their lead over Barcelona disappear and now they are one point back, although with a game in hand.
However, it could have been much worse; they were 3-1 down to Las Palmas and 2-1 to Villarreal, if it wasn’t for spirited late comebacks saving their blushes.
Battle Front Three
Zinedine Zidane looked to have Real poised for silverware this season despite disruptions with ‘BBC’. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo will all start on Tuesday night for only the second time in 16 matches this calendar year.
Zizou has seen his famous front three come under criticism ever since his reign began in January 2016. The legendary Frenchman has already set a Real Madrid record for 40 matches unbeaten but his win ratio at 72% is pretty far off his predecessor, Carlo Ancelotti, at 75%.
Winning the title is still a distinct possibility but Real were knocked out of the Copa del Rey earlier this year by Celta Vigo and the mentality seems to have taken a bit of a hit. Defensively they have also lost their control; just two clean sheets in their last 13 outings, conceding an average of 1.38 goals per-game.
Zidane won Europe’s premier competition in his first season in charge against their city rivals, it doesn’t come much better than that. However, the two-goal lead that they take to Naples on aggregate combined with these defensive issues has me thinking they could be a little complacent and make a meal of this.
Dries Mertens is in ridiculous form this season, scoring 22 goals in 32 games. The pocketsize Belgian has been pushed up the pitch to play as a striker this term as part of a front three with Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon and it’s worked a treat. Add Marek Hamsik’s goals from midfield and between them they have 51 goals in 2016/17.
Real are the favourites at 6/4 and I make that price about right. For all their attacking prowess, I don’t think Napoli are the complete side on this European stage. I do however think Dries Mertens will score and at 17/10 with 888 Sport it’s certainly worth a pop.
The other selection is my old favourite, Both Teams To Score in Both Halves at 8/1 with Skybet. It’s a short price but I think this game could get ‘they score, we score’ and there’s track record of both these teams in this competition this season doing just that.
Two of Real’s three away games in the Champions League this season have obliged; away at Legia and Dortmund and one of Napoli’s three at home, the defeat to Besiktas. With the array of attacking talent on show tonight it’s a must bet.