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Napoli vs. Borussia Dortmund: The definition of a big game

After Saturday's disappointing loss against Parma, Napoli face a tough trip to the Westfalenstadion and key match against Borussia Dortmund.

Paolo Bruno

Napoli's fortunes of late have not been what you would call "the best". Two straight league losses have allowed Juventus and AS Roma to open up a points lead over the third placed Partenopei and things don't get any easier on Tuesday for Rafa Benitez's side as they travel to face Dortmund.

Napoli remains tied at the top of Group F at nine points with Arsenal but Dortmund could pull even with Napoli if they can claim all three points. On the flip side a Napoli victory would drive a dagger through the chances of last year's Champions League runner-ups escaping the group stages.

Jùrgen Klopp's side needs victories in their final two group stages matches but crippling defensive injuries combined with a morale sapping home loss against rivals Bayern Munich on Saturday have Dortmund in serious trouble. There's no question that Dortmund find themselves backed into a corner and often that's when they are most dangerous.

Napoli certainly handled Dortmund's dangerous attack with relative ease in the first meeting between the two teams back in September but expecting to walk into the Westfalenstadion and simply repeat that feat would be foolish. Benitez will need his team to both play smart and try to find a way to pounce of Dortmund early. A quick goal and lead might be enough to severely damage the will of this Dortmund side considering all their recent issues.

Of course getting a quick goal is not something Napoli have seemed capable of doing thus far in the Champions League. The 29th minute is the earliest they've managed to break through -- they did so against Dortmund and in the first match against Marseille -- in UCL play and the longer the match remains scoreless, the more riled up the always raucous Dortmund support will get.

The Westfalenstadion is a tough place to play and don't let Bayern's apparently easy victory there on Saturday trick you in to a false sense of security. Napoli are good but they're no Bayern...but we know that. Finding a way to score and preventing Dortmund from taking an early lead will be key as the last thing Napoli needs is Dortmund buzzing around with an advantage and their fans going bonkers.

Rafa appears to have settled into a back line of Christian Maggio, Federico Fernández, Raúl Albiol and Pablo Armero for Champions League matches. The only really question as to his lineup again comes on the left side of the midfield where either Dries Mertens or Lorenzo Insigne will start. For what it's worth, Insigne played 90 minutes against Parma so Mertens could be up for the start.

Team captain Marek Hamsik is out after suffering a foot injury in the loss against Parma so Goran Pandev seems the likely option to take over for the Slovakian in the center of the attack behind Gonzalo Higuain.

Pandev and Higuain will need to be effective and take advantage of Dortmund's severely depleted defense as Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, Manuel Friedrich and Marcel Schmelzer are are all sidelined. Emergency signing Friedrich is not eligible to play in Europe so the question of who starts in the central defense next to Sokratis Papastathopoulos is a big one. Dortmund does get a boost with the return of fullback Lukasz Piszczek.

One final point in Napoli's favor...they don't have to win. A draw would be just fine in terms of securing a place in the Round of 16. A loss however, well that would be playing with fire. If Dortmund were to pull even on points with Napoli going into the final round of group stage matches, Napoli would then be forced to get a result against Arsenal. Even though that match will be at home and Arsenal will likely already be in the next round, you'd rather not put yourself in that situation.

Basically if you win/draw Tuesday, you don't have to worry about Arsenal. That seems like the preferred path.

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