Real Madrid visit Napoli with a 3-1 lead in-hand, but that does not mean they’ll rest easy ahead of the second leg. In fact, manager Zinedine Zidane has ensured that Real Madrid players and staff are the only ones allowed to stay in their 146 room hotel while the squad will be picked up on the runway, instead of entering the airport terminal; such is the atmosphere for away teams in Naples.
With their away goal, A 2-0 victory for Napoli would be enough, but that’s a tall order given that Real Madrid has scored in every single match they’ve played in this season. Not helping matters, they undoubtedly were focused on their fixture away at second placed Roma this weekend (which they won 2-1), while Real Madrid rested a handful of stars.
Napoli approached the match in Madrid with manager Maurizio Sarri vowing to attack saying, “The only thing I won’t accept is a fearful performance.” They had entered that match 18 games unbeaten, and will have no choice but to continue to stick to the style that has served them well if they’re to overturn the deficit. Luckily for neutrals, we can expect a back-and-forth melee.
Gonazlo Higuain may have left, but with Juve agreeing to the highest fee ever between two Italian clubs, Napoli have wasted no time in reinvesting. Most prominently, Arkadiusz Milik arrives from Ajax, where he scored 21 league goals. Add him to the versatile Marek Hamsik and 24 year old Italy up-and-comer Manolo Gabbiadini and Napoli have the potential to put in another Serie A title push alongside a Champions League campaign. With a forgiving group, they should expect to make the knockout rounds at a minimum.
The record-holding 11 time winners will defend their current trophy without the usual summertime Galactico business. But, when your squad includes the likes of Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema, finally finding consistency is a positive. We have yet to see Zinedine Zidane take a full season at the helm with all the pressure the toughest gig in management provides - how he responds to turbulent times will determine the length of his tenure. The expectations for this squad are the same as every season: win every trophy they compete for. With their aforementioned attacking prowess bolstered by a reliable defense, they could do just that.
Included in last year's Europa League Team of the Season.
After scoring 16 times in 22 Serie A matches, Mertens turned down a lucrative move to China.