In reality, no Napoli fan particularly wants to be here right now. We'd rather be looking forward to the Champions League, breaking down a group of some of the top clubs in Europe, figuring out how Napoli's squad stacks up against three of the elites of the continent.
Instead, we're looking at the Europa League. Thursday matches, not-elite teams, smaller stadiums, less excitement in general. Still, no matter how seriously Napoli take this competition (or don't, as it could easily happen), Napoli have six matches coming up against three teams from outside Italy. Given who the competition is, it's likely that few Napoli fans know much about the clubs, so let's sit down and find out just who Napoli will be playing over the next few months.
2014 Season: 1st in Synot Liga, 25 W, 4 D, 1 L
78 goals scored, 19 goals allowed
@ Napoli Sept. 18
@ Sparta Prague Nov. 27
Napoli will be facing one of the real powers of Czech football in Sparta Prague, as Železná Sparta have won the title in the Czech Republic's top division a whopping 33 times in their 120 year history. Their success has been slowed somewhat of late, however, as this past season was their first league title in four years after a run of more sustained success early in the millennium.
Sparta have yet to win a European competition, though they reached the semi-finals twice in previous versions of the Champions League, most recently in 1992. This year, they got close to the Champions League group stage before getting buzzsawed by Malmo in Sweden. Now they'll be trying to get out of their Europa League group for the third time in five years, though the last two times they fell to big English clubs in the next round, one of which was a Chelsea side lead by Rafa Benitez who were en route to a Europe League title.
Vítězslav Lavička will be looking to try to correct his club's lacking of European success this year, with the third-year manager eager for success outside of his home country. To do so, they'll be relying heavily on the talents of young winger Ladislav Krejčí, a young Czech international who already has six caps and a goal to his name despite his tender age of 22. Krejčí is fast and tricky and has a lethal shot on him, so Napoli's fullbacks will have to be on high alert around him.
2014 Season: 3rd in Super League 17 W, 8 D, 11 L
59 goals scored, 50 goals allowed
@ Young Boys Oct. 23
@ Napoli Nov. 6
Last season's third-place finishers in the Swiss Super League, Young Boys are an eternally interesting underdog. They always put together teams with good players that play well, but they never quite stack up when put up against Europe's better teams. They've won Switzerland's top division 11 times in their history, but haven't won any competition since they won the Swiss Cup way back in 1987.
Manager Uli Forte exceeded expectations when his side finished third last season above Luzern and Zurich, and his side tore apart Ermis Aradippou and Debreceni VSC in Europa qualifiers to get this far. They play an aggressive uptempo game that score goals aplenty, but also leaves them exposed at the back, as their staggering 50 goals allowed last season attests to. Napoli should be able to exploit that handily, even with a second-team attack.
Still, Napoli will need to be careful of Young Boys' attack. Michael Frey, Renato Steffen, and Adrian Nicki make for a potent attacking trio, and Young Boys have a few guys who provide well for them, headlined by Moreno Costanzo. Napoli will have to be careful at the back to avoid shipping goals to that group.
2014 Season: 1st in Corgoň Liga, 24 W, 3 D, 6 L
63 goals scored, 32 goals allowed
@ Slovan Bratislava Oct. 2
@ Napoli Dec. 11
If Napoli fans are going to look forward to any fixtures, it will be the ones against their Slovakian opponents. Not only will the away match see Marek Hamšík return to his native country, he'll be playing against the team he came up with before starting his Italian journey a decade ago. Seeing him go back home and the reception he gets will truly be something.
It's been three years since Bratislava made the Group Stage of the Europa League, and they have yet to get past this stage at any point in their history. They did beat a couple pretty good sides to get this far, though, including Romanian side Sheriff Tiraspol and Belarusian power BATE Borisov, who make noise in Europe almost every year of late.
František Straka took charge of Bratislava this summer after stints with teams across Europe (and a term in Australia), though his history of success is mixed at best. Now, though, he's at the helm of a side that's won their league twice in a row and four times in the last six years. They're a team filled with young and hungry players, and while their talent can't hold a candle to Napoli's, but they can't be taken lightly because you know they will be up to the challenge and then some.