Best Odds: 10/11
Napoli were handed a tough draw as they will be vying Ligue 1 high flyers Nice for a place in the Champions League group stages, but the Azzurri remain the favourites to go through. With two key men missing, les Aiglons could face a daunting trip to Stadio San Paolo.
Napoli have been making steady progress of late, raising the club’s profile in Italy and Europe, and many believe this could be their season. While their title rivals in Serie A have been quite busy in the summer transfer window, the Azzurri had no plans to disrupt the team that had done so well last term, keeping all their star players at Stadio San Paolo. Adam Ounas and Mario Rui were added to the squad to further improve competition for places, while Man City starlet Oleksandr Zinchenko is reportedly set to arrive as well. The Azzurri fared pretty well in pre-season, winning five of eight friendly games, with 2-0 triumph over Bayern Munich especially impressive. The 2-0 victory over Espanyol in the final warm-up game showed Napoli were ready for competitive battles and we fully expect them to prove their worth in the double header against weakened Nice side. The Azzurri boast a decent 7-3-2 home record in the UEFA Champions League, with Besiktas and Real Madrid the only two away sides to have won CL games at Stadio San Paolo.
Head coach Maurizio Sarri has absolutely no selection worries and he will field his strongest side against Nice on Wednesday.
OGC Nice enjoyed a remarkable campaign last term and while they eventually failed to mount a serious title challenge in Ligue 1, les Aiglons did well to secure the final Champions League berth. The French side were pitted against very good Ajax team in the third qualifying round, but they managed to win the tie on away goals and made it to the play-offs. The draw for the final qualifying stage was by no means kind on Nice, as they were drawn alongside star-studded Napoli, and we seriously doubt they can produce another surprise and qualify for the group stage. The fact of the matter is that les Aiglons are weaker than last term having seen Ricardo Pereira, Dalbert Henrique and Valentin Eysseric leave the club, but it is the fact that star players Mario Balotelli and Wesley Sneijder are unavailable for the first leg that is the main cause for concern. The former Inter Milan teammates are expected to play a key role this term, but Lucien Favre will have to do without them at Stadio San Paolo.
Wesley Sneijder and Mario Balotelli did not make the squad, while important midfielder Wylan Cyprien misses out as well.
Key Factors to Consider
- Nice playing in Europe for the first time since 1959/1960
- Napoli won last two matches vs French opposition
- The Azzurri reached the quarter-finals on last two occasions
- Napoli won seven of 12 home games in UCL
- Nice missing Sneijder and Balotelli
Napoli would be far superior to Nice even if their two key men were playing, but this way we expect the Azzurri to create a comfortable lead ahead of the return leg. With the opposition out of confidence after two league defeats, chances are the home side will try and score an early goal to make things easier for them.
Best Odds: 10/11
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