Once more into the breach dear friends, once more into the breach. That is, until February. Napoli have already qualified for the knockout rounds of the Europa League, but that's no reason to stand down against Slovan Bratislava. Victory is essential for ensuring Napoli finish top of Group I, as a draw will only suffice if Young Boys - Sparta also finishes on level terms.
Slovan playing only for pride
Slovan Bratislava, who managed to beat Roma just three years ago to advance to the group stage of the Champions League, has not had a pleasant time of it this year in Europa. The Slovaks have yet to earn a point and have scored just one goal, against Young Boys.
They're already out, so what's the point of Slovan bothering with this match? A little pride, one supposes. Plus, if Jozef Chovanec has done any research at all, he knows that the Napoli backline is willing and eager to give up goals. There's no reason for the visitors not to at least attempt an attack -- they've got nothing to lose, after all, and plenty to gain by making Napoli look a little foolish.
Speaking of Chovanec, he wasn't around when Napoli traveled to Bratislava. He replaced František Straka just days after Slovan lost to Napoli. The side still struggles for consistency, however, winning four and losing three since Chovanec took over. They're currently fifth in the league.
Yes, a Napoli win is important
With a trip to Milan on deck, some might advocate sending out a weakened lineup against Slovan. But that's not really the way Rafa Benítez prefers to roll. The Europa League is a legitimate trophy, after all -- and this year, it comes with automatic entry into the Champions League.
And considering Napoli are currently 5th, Rafa's side just might need that boost.
A win is essential because that will seal first, which in turn dictates who Napoli will face in the Round of 32. There's still a chance to get drawn against a failed Champions League side, however, as four of those losers will be unseeded. There will also be 12 second-place Europa League finishers who could be Napoli's opponents. Knowing the partenopei, they'll end up with the toughest draw available, but minimizing the risk would be ideal.
Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong
Do you have a clue? Give it a shot in the comments. Rafa needs to strike a balance between resting players and ensuring a win over what is certainly inferior competition. Let's just hope that Marek Hamšík gets a start, because he was at his best this season playing against his former side, scoring one and setting up the other in the 2-0 victory.
At a glance
Slovan: 5th; 8W 1D 8L; League Form: WWLLW; Europa League 0W 0D 5L
Napoli: 5th; 6W 6D 2L; League Form: DDDWW; Europa League 3W 1D 1L
TV: Fox Soccer Plus (USA); Premium Calcio (Italy)
Online: Fox Soccer 2Go (USA); 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 and we'll have important updates on our Facebook Page.