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Sparta Prague vs. Napoli, Europa League preview: fighting for the top of Group I

Both sides sit even on nine points, but it was Napoli that took the honors in the first leg.

Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Hey, Americans! What are you doing this Thanksgiving? Hiding from family? Killing time between the end of the Macy's parade and the start of NFL? Simply sitting, waiting for the turkey to cook?

Well how about using that time to give thanks for your favorite Serie A side. Napoli are slated against Sparta in one of the Europa League's early kickoffs, so you've likely got plenty of time to watch the partenopei before you stuff yourself with stuffing.

And if you're not hailing from the U.S., well, you've really got no excuse, do you?

Sparta Praha v NAPOLI :Thursday, November 27 7 p.m. CET, 1 p.m. ET Stadion LetnáPrague

This is Europa. Who knows what might happen. In the previous round, Marek Hamšík and José Callejón hit the post twice and Dries Mertens bagged a brace. Gonzalo Higuaín even scored a penalty, which now seems mighty strange. Oh, and Napoli managed to come back from behind.

But Rafa Benítez, as enamored as he is with European trophies, will be mindful of the fact that the next round brings a trip to Sampdoria, who sit just one point behind in the standings. And these boys will be tired after their mental exertions in forgetting how to defend a lead against Cagliari on Sunday. So it could be a very jumbled up lineup we see...going up against the team Napoli are fighting against for the top spot in Group I.

Since losing to Napoli on the first matchday, Sparta have been perfect through their last three UEL games (Despite what UEFA think,"Sparta have won all five of their European matches this season, scoring 21 goals in the process", Napoli really did win). They've scored eleven goals over their four matches, and have conceded just once to a side not named Napoli.

So this could be tricky. Particularly with David Lafata on hand, he of the ten goals in league play and five in the group stages. If Rafa really does choose a very patchwork defense, Napoli could see their chances of getting to the knockout stages severely hindered.

Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong

Sparta: Marek Stech; Pavel Kadeřábek, Jakub Brabec, Mario Holek, Costa; Lukáš Mareček, Josef Hušbauer; Marek Matejovsky, Bořek Dočkal, Ladislav Krejci; David Lafata

Napoli: Rafael; Giandomenico Mesto, Raúl Albiol, Kalidou Koulibaly, Miguel Britos; David López, Gokhan Inler; Jonathan de Guzmán, Jorginho, José Callejón; Duván Zapata

I copied these lineups straight from TuttoNapoli, not because I'm lazy but because I found it intriguing. Jorginho replacing Marek Hamšík? Sure, why not. Rafa gonna Rafa, right? This is one cobbled-together lineup and I want to see if it explodes dramatically.

At a glance

Sparta: 2nd; 11W 1D 3L (League); 3W 0D 1L (Europa)

Napoli: 3rd; 6W 4D 2L (League); 3W 0D 1L (Europa)

Reverse Fixture

This match, the first of the Europa League season and coming on the heels of a 1-0 loss to Chievo (ugh), seemed at first to indicate that Napoli weren't going to give the competition a second thought. Sparta pulled ahead after less than 15 minutes thanks to a goal from Josef Hušbauer. But a penalty from Higuaín and two more from Mertens in the second half insured a 3-1 victory for the partenopei.

Miss you, Drizzle.

Watch It

TV: Fox Soccer Plus (US); Premium Calcio (Italy); BT Sport 2 (UK)

Online: Fox Soccer 2Go (US); Premium Play (Italy)

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.