Simply put, Napoli must defeat Athletic Bilbao. Fail to emerge victorious from this match, and the success of this season is already under serious doubt.
v. Napoli:August 27th, 2014 2045 CET, 1445 EST San Mames StadiumBilbao, Biscay, Spain
Holding the upper hand
Athletic Bilbao have two huge advantages in this tie: they're at home, and they have an away goal in their pocket. That gives them an immediate leg up in this match, and they have the discipline and ability to make it count.
Bilbao are oozing with confidence going in to this one, with players and coaches all saying over and over this week that they're not afraid of Napoli. They also seem to be tempering that confidence with pragmatism, however, acknowledging that despite their assured nature they know full well that Napoli will come out swinging and that they're too good to just sit back and let them come.
The Spaniards have the ability to disrupt Napoli's forays forward and cause a threat on the counter. Focusing on defense first as they likely will could blunt their attack somewhat, but
Don't. Screw. Up.
Napoli absolutely 100% cannot afford to lose this match. They need to come out swinging, score early, then swing some more. Scoring once will be enough to offset Athletic Bilbao's away goal advantage, scoring again will give Napoli a protection if they can't keep Bilbao from scoring.
That means that the overly conservative formation including Miguel Britos at left back and Walter Gargano in midfield has to go. The attacking service threat of Faouzi Ghoulam down the flank and the high-effort support of Gokhan Inler will be vital in a match like this, and they both stand up better against the counter than the men they should be replacing.
For the love of all things partenopei and azzurri: do. not. screw. this. up. Win this match, or things could get very ugly very fast for Napoli.
Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong
Athletic Bilbao: Iraizoz; De Marcos, Gurpegi, Laporte, Balenziaga; Iturraspe, Mikel Rico; Susaeta, Benat, Muniain; Aduriz
Napoli: Rafael; Maggio, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Inler, Jorginho; Callejon, Hamsik, Mertens; Higuain
Last Time Out
Last Time Out
The first match of this tie really wasn't all that pleasant to watch. Napoli started well, fell off, Bilbao took control, then Britos and Gargano screwed up and Bilbao scored. Napoli were able to equalize to keep the tie manageable, but they left themselves with one hell of a hill to climb.
The match will start Wednesday at 8:45 PM CET/2:45 PM EST. Television coverage will be on Canale 5 in Italy, Sky Sports Red Button streaming in the UK, and Fox Sports 2 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.