Stadio Diego Maradona forms the backdrop for Tuesday’s Champions League Group C top-table six-pointer between Napoli and Real Madrid.
Everything was doom and gloom in Naples earlier this week when marquee forward Victor Osimhen threatened to take legal action against the club after being a subject of mockery.
However, the Nigerian superstar has seemingly forgiven his employers and manager Rudi Garcia, who subbed him off during a scoreless draw against Bologna last weekend.
The 24-year-old refused to celebrate his goal in a 4-1 home win over Udinese in midweek Serie A action, as he did after coming off the bench to score in a 4-0 rout of Lecce on Saturday.
Osimhen’s return to form has coincided with Napoli’s resurgence in the build-up to their first Champions League clash against the record-time European champions since 2017.
Like their hosts, Madrid ran riot at the weekend, putting three unanswered goals past La Liga surprise package Girona to return to the top of Spain’s elite division.
Free-scoring Jude Bellingham had his hand in a 3-0 win in Cataluyna, slotting home a stupendous half-volley to seal Los Merengues’ second straight top-flight victory ‘to nil.’
Carlo Ancelotti’s side have quickly recovered from a 3-1 derby defeat to Atletico Madrid, which remains the only blemish on an otherwise sterling run of competitive results in 2023/24.
In addition to winning seven of their opening eight league matches, the Spaniards emerged 1-0 victors in their Champions League curtain-raiser against Union Berlin, courtesy of Bellingham’s stoppage-time winner.
Napoli also got their European campaign off to a winning start, squeezing past Sporting Braga 2-1 in Portugal, as they stand undefeated in five games (W3, D2) since going down 2-1 to Lazio in early September.
But Madrid’s visit to Stadio Diego Maradona threatens to halt the Partenopei’s decent-looking run, considering the Italians have been winless in all four previous Champions League duels (D1, L3).
On a more positive note, since Los Blancos triumphed here over five years ago, only perennial Premier League champions Manchester City have defeated Napoli in a Champions League game in south Italy (W11, D4).
With Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Osimhen leading the line, the reigning Scudetto holders have netted at least three goals in four of their last five home league outings in Europe’s most prestigious competition.
Napoli’s aura of invincibility at home shouldn’t faze Madrid, especially given their recent performances on Italian soil, having won five successive away matches against Serie A clubs without conceding.
Despite missing several components at the back, Ancelotti has positioned himself well for his first meeting with former employers since 2009, with Los Merengues clocking up three clean sheets in their last four outings.
His side have been victorious in four of their five away games across all competitions this season (L1), with three of those victories coming ‘to nil,’ testifying to Madrid’s resilient defending.
As long as Bellingham is on the pitch, Los Blancos will pose an attacking threat, with the Englishman getting on the scoresheet in seven of his nine appearances for club and country in 2023/24.
Napoli’s first-choice centre-back pairing is unavailable for Tuesday’s game as Amir Rrahmani and Juan Jesus remain on the sidelines injured.
However, Garcia’s second-string defenders Natan and Leo Ostigard have excelled, capitulating just once in three consecutive matches they’ve started together.
Defensive solidity has also been Madrid’s trademark, even though Thibaut Courtois, David Alaba, and Eder Militao are struggling with injuries.
Turkish wonderkid Arda Guler won’t make his competitive debut for the Spanish powerhouse before October’s international break.
Napoli potential starting line-up:
(4-3-3): Alex Meret; Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Leo Ostigard, Natan, Mario Rui; Lobotka, Andre-Frank Anguissa, Piotr Zielinski; Matteo Politano, Victor Osimhen, Khivcha Kvaratskhelia.
Real Madrid potential starting line-up:
(4-3-1-2): Kepa Arrizabalaga; Dani Carvajal, Antonio Rudiger, Nacho Fernandez, Ferland Mendy; Aurelien Tchouameni, Federico Valverde, Luka Modric; Jude Bellingham; Rodrygo, Vinicius Junior.
We Say: Napoli 1-2 Real Madrid
With Vinicius Junior back from injury and Bellingham firing on all cylinders, Madrid should have the upper hand in this battle for supremacy in Group C.
Given a traditionally intimidating atmosphere in Naples, it’s hard to discount Napoli as potential winners of this contest, but we expect Los Merengues to take home three points.
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