Napoli and Porto have met exactly once before in a competitive tie, in the 1974/1975 UEFA Cup second round. Napoli came away the victors there, though Porto won 3-1 in a friendly match in London last summer. For the sake of the partenopei faithful, let's hope things wind up more in line with more distant history rather than more recent affairs.
Not Enough Success
The first thing to get out of the way is that Porto have a new manager: after a season of general disappointment and underwhelming performances, a four-match winless run that included their two Europa draws against Frankfurt led Porto's decision-makers to sack Paulo Fonseca last week and appoint B team manager Luis Castro in his place for the remainder of the season.
It's not every day a third-place club fires their manager, but when you're the preeminent giant of your nation and first place is basically out of reach, such a move isn't out of the realm of possibility. Castro doesn't bring a huge tactical shift because he coached the B team and, well, Porto doesn't allow huge tactical shifts. They play a 4-3-3 based around creativity and possession, and they'll keep on with that method until it simply doesn't work any more because that's what Porto does.
The head of their forward line, leading scorer, and one of the better strikers in Europe right now is Colombian Jackson Maritnez, who's scored 22 all-competitions goals this season. Their midfield is anchored by Fernando Reges, who serves in the most defensive role of the trio and is generally flanked by an industrious box-to-box midfielder and a more dynamic attacker. Early in the season, Steven Defour generally held the industrious role and Josue the playmaking, though more recently Hector Herrera and Carlos Eduardo have been been preferred in their place.
Porto may be disappointing this season by their standards and haven't played well of late, but they're still a very dangerous opponent who need to be taken very seriously. They're one of the better clubs in the world on pure talent, and Napoli will have to make a marked improvement on their too-often lackluster play of late in order to progress to the quarterfinals.
Working To The End Goal
We've reached the point of the season where you know the story and not much is going to change. Big match, on the road, Napoli will play somewhat conservatively and try to nick an away goal or two since those are really important in elimination ties. Rafa Benitez is well-versed in European competition and has "his" method for going about a first leg on the road, and while it's not sexy or exciting, it certainly has been effective for him.
The big news is that Christian Maggio missed Napoli's last training session after picking up a knock in training earlier in the week and is officially a doubt and is likely not to play in the first leg against Porto, though he did travel and is available if need be. Valon Behrami is available, but is likely to start on the bench after his recent knee injury.
Jorginho still isn't on the UEFA roster (Napoli can't make changes to the roster until after this round), and of course the Knee Injury Trio are still, well, the Knee Injury Trio. Though Camilo Zuniga did return to training in a limited fashion this week, so at least there's that.
Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong
Porto (4-3-3): Helton; Danilo, Maicon, Mangala, Sandro; Fernando, Carlos, Herrera; Quaresma, Martinez, Varela
Napoli (4-2-3-1): Reina; Reveillere, Henrique, Albiol, Ghoulam; Inler, Dzemaili; Callejon, Hamsik, Insigne; Higuain
At A Glance
Porto: 3rd in Primeira Liga, 14W, 4D, 4L, +26 GD; All-competitions form: WDLDD
Napoli: 3rd in Serie A, 16W 6D 4L, +23 GD; All-competitions form WDWDD
How They Got Here
Porto: Finished third in Champions League Group G; Drew 5-5 on aggregate with Eintracht Frankfurt (GER) in Europa League round of 32, advancing on away goals.
Napoli: Finished third in Champions League Group F; Defeated Swansea City (ENG) 3-1 in Europa League round of 32
The match will start Thursday at 7:00 PM CET/2:00 PM EST. Television coverage will be on Sky Calcio 1 in Italy, ITV 4 in the UK, and ESPN Deportes in America. Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, we'll have a match thread live here for discussion of the game at hand. You can also follow along with us live on Twitter.