Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 4/5
The leaders of Group C in the Champions League, Real Madrid and Napoli, will clash at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.
Carlo Ancelotti, managing Real Madrid, will confront his former club again, secure in the knowledge that his team has already secured a spot in the knockout stages for the upcoming year. On the other hand, Napoli would need to win this game to do the same, though a draw would suffice as well if Braga fail to beat Union Berlin at the same time.
Real Madrid have been dominating in their Champions League Group C, securing four wins out of four matches. The upcoming one against Napoli provides an opportunity to secure their place at the top of the group. With just a point needed in this fixture, Real Madrid aim to nail down seeding for the upcoming knockout stage draw in December.
Los Blancos have displayed an impressive home record, remaining unbeaten since early April and winning eight of their last nine Champions League home matches. Their sole draw against Manchester City in the semi-final of the previous season stands as the exception in this run.
In encounters against Italian teams, Real have showcased their prowess, clinching victories in their last nine meetings with Serie A sides. Their 3-2 win against Napoli at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in the earlier group stage fixture is a testament to their strength.
Despite grappling with significant injuries to key players like Thibaut Courtois and Eder Militao, Real’s defence at home has remained sturdy. The recent goal conceded to Valencia was the first at the Bernabeu in nearly 10-and-a-half hours, highlighting their defensive solidity in front of their home crowd.
After the international break, Carlo Ancelotti’s squad resumed domestic action with a convincing 3-0 triumph over Cadiz. This victory elevated them to the summit of La Liga standings, benefitting from Girona’s inability to secure a win against Athletic Bilbao on Monday.
Ancelotti might opt for squad rotation to preserve some players dealing with fitness issues, especially since they only require a single point. Luka Modric could be rested as a precaution due to a minor muscular problem he encountered during the weekend.
Vinicius Junior’s absence for the remainder of 2023 is confirmed due to injury, while midfielders Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga are also unlikely to return to action until the new year.
Jude Bellingham and Rodrygo managed to overcome their injury concerns to deliver standout performances in the recent triumph against Cadiz. Given the team’s injury concerns with key players, they might be included in the starting lineup once more.
With Thibaut Courtois out for several months more, Lunin might have earned another start in goal, particularly if Kepa Arrizabalaga remains uncertain.
Napoli’s path to the last 16 alongside Real Madrid will be secured with a victory or even by achieving the same result as Braga against Union Berlin in their upcoming match.
Union’s struggles this season have helped Napoli ensure their place in European football for the upcoming year, whether in the Champions League or the Europa League, remains to be seen. However, their recent win against Braga solidifies their position as strong contenders for the second spot.
This potential advancement to the last 16 would mark Napoli’s fifth consecutive progression beyond the UEFA group stage. The team aims to at least replicate last season’s success, where they reached the quarter-finals, establishing a new club record in the tournament.
This season has proven more turbulent compared to the successes of the previous one under Luciano Spalletti. Rudi Garcia was dismissed during the international break, only four months into the current campaign.
Garcia’s exit followed a home loss to Empoli, which came shortly after being held by Union Berlin, a team that was enduring a 12-game losing streak at that time. Walter Mazzarri has returned to the helm and is gearing up for his first-ever encounter against Real Madrid in his managerial career.
Mazzarri’s tenure began with a notable 2-1 victory away at Atalanta over the weekend, with Elif Elmas securing a late winning goal for the Partenopei. Their recent triumph extends Napoli’s impressive away form to seven wins in nine matches on the road this term. They’ve encountered only minor setbacks with draws against Genoa and Bologna, maintaining an average of over two goals per game in those nine outings.
Napoli are currently dealing with a left-back crisis as Mathias Olivera suffered an injury and had to be stretchered off during their victory against Atalanta, joining Mario Rui on the injury list.
Juan Jesus is expected to fill in, given his versatility, while Amir Rrahmani and Natan are anticipated to start in the central defense.
After being sidelined for seven weeks, Victor Osimhen made his much-awaited return during the weekend’s victory. He came off the bench just after the hour mark and contributed an assist for the winning goal. The Nigerian star is likely to replace Giacomo Raspadori in the starting lineup.
Real Madrid only require a draw to secure advancement as group winners, and despite facing numerous injury concerns, they are expected to maintain their impressive home record in this tournament.
Walter Mazzarri’s tenure at Napoli has faced significant challenges, and with upcoming fixtures against Inter Milan and Juventus in their domestic league, it’s been a particularly tough start. Even after their recent success in Bergamo, replicating that performance against Real Madrid is anticipated to be a formidable task.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 4/5
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