Napoli play host to current UEFA Champions League holders Real Madrid in the return leg of the last 16 of the biggest club competition in world football. The Italian outfit come into this game facing a 3-1 deficit, as goals from Benzema, Kroos and Casemiro sealed victory for Los Blancos following Insigne’s early strike at the Bernabéu three weeks ago.
The home side picked up an impressive victory on their travels on Saturday afternoon, defeating high-flyers AS Roma 2-1 at the Stadio Olimpico after a brace from Mertens and late heroics from the experienced Pepe Reina, who produced a world-class save to seal the victory, which ultimately moved them within just two points of second place in the Serie A. Despite this outstanding result, Maurizio Sarri’s men have only picked up two victories in their last five games (in all competitions), with the other three games ending in defeat for the ‘Partenopei’ (including the loss to Real Madrid.)
Real Madrid also go into this tough test following a solid victory, defeating 8th placed Eibar 4-1 at the Ipurua after a double from Benzema and goals from James Rodriguez and Asensio. The boys in white showed that they are capable of putting in a brilliant team performance even after a poor run of games, having gained only four points from their last three league games. Although they are undergoing a bad run of form (for the Spaniard sides’ high standards), Zinedine Zidane’s men are still unbeaten in this season’s UEFA Champions League.
Napoli’s Mertens was subbed off late into the encounter against Roma following an injury scare, but boss Maurizio Sarri insists it was only due to cramp, so he should be fit to start. Midfielder Allan is also a doubt for Napoli and will most likely only feature on the bench following his recent injury problems. Only Kalidou Koulibaly is in danger of missing the quarter-finals if Napoli make it there, should he receive a booking in tonight’s match.
Raphael Varane has been struggling with a thigh problem recently so he has been left out by Zidane, alongside Coentrao who simply didn’t make the squad. Ronaldo is expected to feature as he joined in with the team’s training yesterday after slight muscle fatigue, causing him to be rested against Eibar. Luka Modrić and Sergio Ramos are both in danger of missing the potential quarter-final clash due to suspension, so expect them to be treading on thin ice throughout the 90 minutes (or more!)
The visitors will be relieved to have a two-goal lead coming into this game, but they could regret not putting away some of the chances they managed to create at the Bernabeu. Napoli are the highest scorers in Serie A with 62 goals so far this season and with Real Madrid’s back-backline not proving anywhere near as capable as their forward line this season, I simply cannot see them keeping a clean sheet tonight. Despite their defensive worries, some of Real Madrid’s best displays this season have come on the European stage against opponents like Borussia Dortmund and I’d be shocked if Napoli manage to keep completely shut them out tonight.
I reckon this game will have plenty of goals, but I think that Real Madrid’s class and experience will prove too much for Napoli as far as the aggregate score goes, with my final prediction being Napoli 2-3 Real Madrid.