Napoli secured one of the biggest wins of the season last week against RB Salzburg, taking a three-goal advantage with them into the second leg. However, they must be careful not to let the absences of Koulibaly and Maksimovic hurt their confidence heading into the second leg.
The three-nil win at the San Paolo was a testament to us tifosi that our boys in blue are working hard to give us something to celebrate come May. It was a match in which we finally saw the grinta that we’ve lacked for much of the season. Ancelotti’s side showed us what they were capable of when firing on all cylinders, with the Partenopei fluid going forward and solid at the back for much of the affair.
Additionally, they had their play bolstered by spectacular individual performances from the likes of Fabian Ruiz and Alex Meret. Ruiz has established himself as the centerpiece of our midfield for the foreseeable future, and Meret has continued to live up to the hype as one of Italy’s top talents in-between the sticks. Furthermore, Jose Callejon has continued to deliver in the midst of Insigne and Mertens’ dry spell.
Following the match, it was nothing but joy for Napoli fans and players alike. As aforementioned, though, we will be without our two starting center-backs for the second leg, a situation which caused many Napoli fans to worry about our side’s chances of progressing in the tournament. While it doesn’t bode well to have your best defenders missing against a side that is undefeated at home all season, Salzburg’s lack of an away goal serves as the silver lining in what would otherwise be a terrible situation.
Napoli, however, did nothing to quell these worries. The side followed up the three-nil win with arguably one of their worst performances of the season in a one-one draw with Sassuolo. Granted, it was a heavily rotated side, but that doesn’t excuse the uninspired performance we saw at the Mapei Stadium. The decision making in the final third was terrible, with Ounas and Verdi the main culprits in our failure to execute any attacks launched at the Neroverdi’s backline, and the midfield pairing of Diawara and Allan were unable to establish any sort of dominance in the middle of the park. Despite that, there are some positives to take into the Salzburg match from the draw.
The first is that Chiriches seems to be a safe bet for Thursday’s fixture after having been out of the squad for so long. Additionally, it’s important to note that RB Salzburg failed to build momentum heading into the second leg as well. They drew nil-nil with SK Sturm Graz at home, showing us that while they are a formidable force at home, getting a result at Red Bull Arena is not impossible. The occasion of Thursday night will spur on a more complete performance from Marco Rose’s side, so it won’t do us any good to expect another lackluster performance from Die Rotten Bullen.
Getting an away goal will put this tie to bed, since doing so means Salzburg will have to score five to progress. In order to get that precious away goal, Napoli must take the game to Salzburg in their own backyard, and not allow the magnitude of the occasion get to them. The Europa League is our last shot at winning some silverware this season, so expect to see that ‘cazzimma’ that we’ve seen from time to time this season.
Also, keep an eye on Insigne, who, after some apparent unrest due to the criticism of some tifosi, will look to prove himself as a worthy bearer of the captain’s band.
Prediction: RB Salzburg 1-2 Napoli
By Massimo Nuzzo