Napoli welcome French side, Nice at the lovely Stadio San Paolo in Naples, looking to reach the group stage of the Champions League for just the fourth time in their history.
The Azzurri aren’t new to the CL play-offs, having been at this level of the competition previously in the 2014/2015 season, when they eventually lost to La Liga side, Atletic Bilbao.
For their visitors in today’s encounter, OGC Nice, coached by the brilliant Lucien Favre, this will their first appearance in the European competition since the 1959/60 season.
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Nice will be missing the rejuvenated Mario Balotelli, and new signing, Wesley Sneijder, both of whom have been training but not ready for competitive football, according to manager, Favre, who also said that Sneijder has been training alone, having not played football for two months.
For the host, Maurizio Sarri has no injury worries heading, with a fully fit squad at his disposal.
Napoli’s manager, Sarri: “I ask the guys two essential things- attention and application. This is [a] match that is worth the Champions League and since we represent a city that deserves to play at high European level, we will try to conquer the place with all our strength.
He added; “We are aware not to be at the top, but at half of August all the Italian teams are at a settling phase. We face an opponent who has already played two matches of their league and that is more brilliant.”
Nice manager, Favre: “We have watched Napoli a lot, with their 4-3-3, their one-touch style, their very compact defensive recovery, their impact. But we need to focus, above all, on our qualities and what can be done well tomorrow.
“It’s going to be an extremely difficult match, they are very quick, are good in one-on-one, in the transition, they play quick one-touch football, combine well at high speed. We will need to be ready for this type of thing,” he added.
Having knocked out Dutch giants, Ajax Amsterdam, to set up a meeting with Napoli, the French team will be in confident mood heading into tonight’s tie, and will certainly prove a stern test for the Italians.
Nice have a lot to worry about as they have lost their two matches since the Ligue 1 kicked off two weeks ago, and will be facing a Napoli side that has no goal scoring issues.
While Napoli head into this one on the back of a form that saw them lose just one of five matches in preseason, including a 2-0 win against German champions, Bayern Munich.
These sides have met twice before in 2015 and 2016, albeit in friendly matches, with both sides winning one game apiece.
The Serie A club have won their last two meetings with French team
Napoli have lost just two of their eight matches against French oppositions.
This is the first competitive match between both sides.
Predicted Starting XI:
Napoli XI (4-3-3): Pepe; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik; Callejon, Mertens, Insigne
OGC Nice XI (4-2-3-1): Cardinale; Souquet, Dante, Maxime; Sarr; Koziello, Seri; Lees-Melou, Mahou, Allan Saint-Maximin; Plea
It’s difficult to put this one beyond the Italians, though this will be their first competitive match of the season, with Nice expected to look sharper, having played league two matches already.
I expect the home side to dominate possession, and control this match, with Nice happy to play on the counter. However, Napoli should be able to establish a commanding lead heading into the second leg.
In other UEFA CL play-offs matches across Europe, for fans and followers of the Nigerian national side, Super Eagles, their eyes will be glued to their screens as John Ogu’s Hapoel Beer-Sheva host Maribor at the Turner stadium, hoping to go one step further than last season, when they lost at this very stage.
In Greece, Olympiacos host Rijeka of Croatia, who are playing in their first CL match since 1990/2000.
Turkish side, Istanbul Basaksehir will be tackling Europa League specialist, Sevilla, in Turkey, while Scottish champions, Celtic lock horns with Astana.