It's time to shift our attention to the rest of Europe, as Napoli get ready to head to Slovakia to take on Slovan Bratislava in the Europa League. It will also be an emotional match, as Marek Hamsik returns to the place where his career started, as he spent the first years of his career in Bratislava. All in all, this has the makings of a fun match.
v. Napoli:October 2nd, 2014 1900 CET, 1300 EST Stadion PasienkyBratislava, Slovakia
Playing With The Big Boys
While Slovan Bratislava do have European success in their history, having beaten Barcelona for the Cup Winners Cup title in 1969, but in more recent years they've struggled to stay relevant outside of Slovakia. In fact, the only time they've made a European group stage since the advent of that format, they were wiped out of the 2011/12 Europa League with just one point in the group.
Slovan are also struggling in the league at the moment, with just one win in their last five matches in Slovakia, and two losses in their last three. Their skid has had them scrambling for solutions much like Napoli, but unlike Napoli, they weren't able to keep the Europa League out of their struggles, as they got whupped 5-0 by Swiss outfit BSC Young Boys.
The Slovakian side should be able to roll out a relatively full strength side if they so choose, with only striker Roberto Vittek being listed as injured in recent days, and he'd been an irregular feature in the team before going down. Leading scorer Seydouba Soumah is the danger man, with five goals from his attacking midfield position. Juraj Halenar and Karol Meszaros also warrant attention if they play, as they have four goals apiece.
Slovan are lead by Frantisek Straka, in his first year in charge of the defending Slovakian champions. The 56 year old former Czechoslovakian international star has plenty of coaching experience, but limited success, with his only trophy win coming this season in the Slovak Super Cup at the start of this campaign. His 4-2-3-1 is rigid to an extent that makes Rafa Benitez look positively fluid, but it generally gets the job done. Except lately, of course.
Keep The Momentum Going
Napoli just got a vital league win, and with just this and a league match between now and the next international break, another win will be just as important, even if it's not in the league. Plus, getting two wins in their first two group stage matches will be a good way fro Napoli to make it easier to advance to the Europa League knockout rounds.
It's also going to be an emotional moment for Napoli's captain, as Marek Hamsik will be reunited with the club and stadium that launched his career. Hamsik only played six senior games for Slovan before moving to Brescia in 2004, but every player will always remember that first time stepping on the pitch. Returning to the Stadion Pasienky will be a special moment for Marekiaro, and seeing how he plays in front of his home town crowd will be interesting.
Napoli will be missing Jorginho, Raul Albiol, and Camilo Zuniga, with all three players left in Italy for various strains and, in the case of Albiol, general fatigue. It'll also be a good chance to give minutes to a couple players who have lacked it this season, such as Faouzi Ghoulam, Duvan Zapata, and a debut for goalkeeper Mariano Andujar.
Napoli should be able to beat Slovan without too much fuss, but playing away in Europe is never easy. Even against a thoroughly outclassed side like Slovan ought to be, with an organized side and a hostile crowd against them, things could be rather more tricky than many teams would bargain for.
Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong
Slovan: Pernis; Lasik, Gorosito, Ninaj, Kolcak; Grendel, Stefanik; Meszaros, Soumah, Peitier; Halenar
Napoli: Andujar; Maggio, Henrique, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Lopez, Inler; Mertens, Hamsik, Callejon; Zapata
The match will start Thursday at 7:00 PM CET/1:00 PM EST. Television coverage will be on Premium Calcio in Italy, BT Sport 1 in the UK, and FOX Soccer Plus 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.