While Real Madrid finished second in their group, they managed to avoid the biggest first-place sides. Still, this matchup will require more killer instinct than they showed in their group stage run, where they too-often failed to take control of matches.
Real Madrid played Saturday, beating Osasuna 3-1 with a mostly full-strength XI. That kept them in first in La Liga by a point, however with two games in hand.
Napoli meanwhile, played on Friday, beating Genoa 2-0 to remain in third in Serie A. They started off white-hot, going undefeated in Serie A into October, but have had a bit of an uneven season since. Their group stage performances never quite lived up to their early season hype - including a 0-0 draw against Dynamo Kyiv and a 3-2 loss to Besiktas, both at home. In a group without serious offensive firepower, they only managed one clean sheet. Realistically, they’ll have to outgun Real Madrid to get past them, they have four players with seven or more goals in Serie A, and a defensive masterclass with this squad is unlikely. Luckily for us, that sets this match up to be an open-ended affair.
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.
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.
Averages over a goal a game for Real, having scored 261 in 237 appearances.
The 33 year-old defender has frustrated and annoyed opponents for over 215 matches with Real.