Manuel Veth –
Napoli vs Salzburg – Thursday, March 7, 20:00GMT/21:00CET – Stadio San Paolo, Naples, Italy
For the first time in history, Napoli will be hosting a club from Austria. It will be a fascinating tie at the Stadio San Paolo.
An intriguing tie that comes on the backs of a major disappointment for head coach Carlo Ancelotti and his men — Napoli hosted Serie A leaders Juventus on Sunday but after a red card to newly acquired keeper Alex Meret in the 25′ minute succumbed to a 2-1 defeat.
That result means that there is now a 15 point gap between Juventus and Napoli at the top of the table, which in turn means that the quest for the third Scudetto, and the first since 1990, is over for the I Partenopei.
The South Italian side has, in fact, been chasing the glory days of the late 1980s, when no other than Diego Maradona was patrolling the midfield, for the better part of three decades. But while the Scudetto is now out of reach the Europa League still very much remains an objective that can be reached even if the club lost superstar Marek Hamsik to China this winter.
In fact, Napoli needlessly threw away the Europa League last year as former head coach Maurizio Sarri had prioritised the league. As a result, they were eliminated by Salzburg’s sister club RB Leipzig during this stage of the competition. This year they want to do one better, however, against a team that has more and more become Leipzig’s farm team.
Over the years Salzburg have lost 15 players to RB Leipzig and with Hannes Wolf (more on him below) will lose at least one more player this summer. That said Salzburg are a strong side and in the Europa League group stage managed to win six out of six games including both games against RB Leipzig with whom Salzburg were drawn into one group.
Those two games, in particular, highlighted the full spectrum of Marco Rose’s ability. The Salzburg head coach is considered one of the most tactically astute managers in Europe, and under his leadership, Salzburg have not only dominated Austrian football, the Mozartstädter are 11 points clear at the top of the Austrian Bundesliga, but also reached the semi-final of the Europa League against Olympique Marseille last season.
With all this in mind, the game on Thursday should produce a fascinating encounter in which both sides could go all out. Napoli will be favourites to win the game, but Salzburg will get at least one away goal to make the return fixture interesting.
Napoli vs Salzburg – Players to look out for:
Arkadiusz Milik #99 – Napoli
Arkadiusz Milik will be Napoli’s dangerman in this fixture. The Polish forward leads I Partenopei attacking line and has already scored 14 goals in 23 Serie A games this season. In Europe, however, Milik has been kept off the scoresheet, which did not aid his side’s Champions League ambitions. Eliminated at the group stage after failing to score against Liverpool Milik, in fact, was often only the second choice. The Polish striker was then also kept off the scoresheet in the round of 32 against Zürich, hence the time is now to show the world that he can be a striker that can also get the job done in Europe.
Hannes Wolf #13 – FC Salzburg
Hannes Wolf is the latest Salzburg talent to make the jump from Red Bull Salzburg to RasenBallsport Leipzig. Wolf often operates behind two natural forwards in Marco Rose’s preferred 4-3-1-2 formation. A dynamic playmaker, not unlike RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg, Wolf has certainly benefited from playing with natural goalscorers like the Israeli forward Munas Dabbur. A fantastic dribbler Wolf can both setup Salzburg’s attackers but also execute attacking runs on his own.
Napoli vs Salzburg – Match Stats
- Napoli are yet to face Austrian opposition in UEFA competition.
- Salzburg have won only four of their 14 European encounters with Italian clubs but, following last season’s quarter-final success against Lazio (2-4 away, 4-1 home), their home and away records are now identical (W2 D1 L3).
- UEFA Cup winners in 1989, Napoli are unbeaten at home in Europe this term (W3 D1).
- The Austrian side claimed maximum points in this season’s UEFA Europa League group stage, becoming the first club to achieve the feat three times (after 2009/10 and 2013/14).
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Napoli vs Salzburg – 3-2
Napoli vs Salzburg – Lineups
Meret – Hysaj, Koulibaly, Maksimović, Malcuit – Allan, Ruiz – Zielinski, Callejón – Insigne, Milik
Head Coach: Carlo Ancelotti
Walke – Ulmer, Ramalho, Onguéné, Lainer – Schlager, Samassékou, Mwepu – Wolf – Gulbrandsen, Dabbur
Head Coach: Marco Rose
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others contributes to Forbes.com and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.