Fresh off a victorious Serie A weekend, Napoli take a mouth-watering trip to the Santiago Bernabeu to encounter Real Madrid. Wednesday’s Champions League showdown in the Spanish capital comes at a suitable moment for the visiting team.
Real Madrid quashed fears that a series of injuries could halt their momentum after the international break. Jude Bellingham and Rodrygo scored to lead Carlo Ancelotti’s side to a 3-0 win at Cadiz. Back to the top of the La Liga standings, Los Merengues must be full of confidence ahead of their impending Champions League return.
Ancelotti triumphed in the reverse fixture against his former employers as the Spaniards eked out a dramatic 3-2 victory at the Diego Maradona Stadium in October. That result forms part of their 100% Group C start, which has helped the 14-time European champions secure knockout progression with two games to spare.
Unfortunately for Napoli, Real Madrid still have something to play for. A draw here would cement their place as group winners, meaning the reigning Serie A champions must grind to take some points home. Four points clear of third-placed Sporting Braga, Partenopei could seal knockout qualification with an unlikely win on the Iberian Peninsula.
But that’s easier said than done, although Napoli won’t lack confidence.
Walter Mazzarri’s return to the bench inspired an immediate resurgence as Napoli netted either side of halftime to beat Atalanta 2-1 on Saturday. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia was on the scoresheet in his first club appearance in the post-Rudi Garcia era to maintain an impressive form, which saw him score twice while on international duty with Georgia.
Kvaratskhelia’s resurrection after a woeful start to the season, alongside Victor Osimhen’s recovery after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, could encourage Napoli fans ahead of this blockbuster fixture.
In addition to seeking another top-table finish in the Champions League group stages, Real Madrid have more than just pride to protect here. Ancelotti’s men head into proceedings having racked up an eye-catching nine-game unbeaten home streak at Europe’s top table (W8, D1), including a brace of wins ‘to nil’ against Braga and Union Berlin this term.
Real Madrid’s home dominance stretches well beyond the realms of the Champions League. Except for an unfathomable 0-0 draw against La Liga minnows Rayo Vallecano earlier this month, they have won all seven remaining outings at the Santiago Bernabeu this season, four via multiple-goal margins, including a 5-1 demolition of Valencia last time out.
Player to Watch: Jude Bellingham
Despite Bellingham’s recent injury concerns, Ancelotti cannot afford to leave him out of his lineup. With three goals, including his incredible strike against Napoli, he’s the club’s leading goalscorer in the Champions League.
Mazzarri’s winning return to the Napoli bench spelled the end of the club’s two-game winless run in all competitions. However, the experienced manager now faces Ancelotti, whom he has only defeated three times in their previous 13 managerial battles (D2, L8). It could be an added incentive for the ex-Cagliari boss in Madrid.
If he manages to defy his underwhelming track record against Ancelotti, Napoli could be on the verge of achieving a historic feat at the Santiago Bernabeu. They’ve lost both previous visits to this venue by a two-goal margin, highlighting the size of a psychological barrier they must overcome this midweek. Five consecutive away wins in the build-up could be helpful.
Player to Watch: Victor Osimhen
No one will be more motivated to get on the scoresheet than Osimhen. Back from injury, last season’s Capocannoniere-award winner will be out to score his first Champions League goal of the 2023/24 campaign.
Plagued by numerous high-profile injuries, Real Madrid will be without Thibaut Courtois, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Eder Militao, Eduardo Camavinga, Vinicius Junior, and Aurelien Tchouameni. Luka Modric is a minor doubt after picking up a knock against Cadiz at the weekend.
As for Napoli, Mazzarri will have to invent something at left-back as Mario Rui and Mathias Olivera are unavailable for selection due to injuries. Juan Jesus will probably fill the vacancy. Meanwhile, Jesper Lindstrom is still out with an ankle problem.
Real Madrid vs Napoli Potential Lineups
Real Madrid (4-4-2): Andriy Lunin; Lucas Vazquez, Antonio Rudiger, Nacho Fernandez, Fran Garcia; Federico Valverde, Toni Kroos, Dani Ceballos; Jude Bellingham; Rodrygo, Brahim Diaz.
Napoli (4-3-3): Alex Meret; Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Amir Rrahmani, Natan, Juan Jesus; Stanislav Lobotka, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Piotr Zielinski; Matteo Politano, Victor Osimhen, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
Real Madrid vs Napoli Prediction
With knockout qualification already in the bag and injuries cutting through his Real Madrid squad, Ancelotti may field an understrength lineup, giving Napoli a window of opportunity to seize a place in the last-16 with a game to spare.
However, we’re more inclined to predict a share of the spoils in this one.
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