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Napoli vs. Sparta Prague, 2014 UEFA Europa League: Preview, Projected Lineups and How to Watch

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Giuseppe Bellini

Most Napoli fans couldn't care less about the Europa League. There's enough to worry about: Losing to Chievo, Rafa Benítez's tactics looking slightly tired, the fact that Christian Maggio can't put in a cross to save his life, Gonzalo Higuaín having not scored a goal, the hostile atmosphere at the San Paolo, the possibility that Aurelio De Laurentiis is set to sell the club.

But there's no denying that the Europa League holds extra appeal this season: the winner gains automatic entry into the Champions League, most likely straight into the group stage. Is it worth using so many resources to dominate in Europe's second tournament? Well, if Napoli are going to continue to have trouble in Serie A, might as well try to dominate weaker opposition to make a deep run in this competition.

Europa League:Napoli vs. Sparta PrahaThursday, September 18 9:15 p.m. CET, 3:15 p.m. ET Stadio San Paolo, Naples
Sparta Praha not likely to be an easy opponent

The Siren's Song was lucky to have convinced someone that actually knows about Czech football to write an in-depth report on Sparta.

We're not going to pretend we have a handle on the Czech side. But the gist of it is that they can likely disarm Napoli. They're quick transitioning from defense to attack and, slightly more worryingly, likely to press high up the pitch. When Genoa put pressure on Napoli, Napoli more or less just stood there and took it. That can't happen in this match.

Napoli preview

Rafa has come up against Sparta before, of course, and in the not so distant past. They visited Stamford Bridge back in February 2013, for the first round of the Europa League knockout stages. Chelsea won 2-1 on aggregate on their way to lifting the trophy.

It wasn't, however, easy for the Blues. The win came via a goal from Eden Hazard, scored in added extra time. Hazard spent much of the night on the bench, as did David Luiz and Ashley Cole, but the majority of the lineup was composed of regular Chelsea starters.

A closer look at Napoli's Europa opponents

It was a substitute that put Chelsea in front in the first leg as well, with Oscar scoring the only goal. And perhaps that's what will happen when Napoli face Sparta. It's being predicted that Rafa will send out the B-Team, with the likes of Miguel Britos, Walter Gargano and Giandomenico Mesto taking the field. José Callejón doesn't have a backup, though, so he may provide a goal (assuming the San Paolo faithful play nice) and Dries Mertens' speed from the start may prove invaluable in breaking Sparta down.

Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong

Napoli: Rafael; Mesto, Henrique, Koulibaly, Britos; Gargano, De Guzman Jorginho;Mertens, Michu, Callejon; Duvan
Jonathan de Guzmán is left off Napoli's Europa League squad, so it's likely that Jorginho will get the nod.

Sparta: Bicik; Kaderabek, Kovac, Brabec, Costa; Matejovsky, Marecek, Vacek; Dockal, Lafata, Krejci

At a glance

The Czech league have already played through seven rounds, and Sparta are second, sitting a point behind Viktoria Plzeň. They've not lost in their last four outings, however (including the Cup) and have conceded just two goals in that time.

Napoli have played two matches, winning at Genoa and losing at home to Chievo. Let's not discuss this further

Watch It

Make a note: this match starts at 9:15 p.m. CET / 3:15 p.m. ET

Italy: Premium Play, Premium Calcio
UK: BT Sport 1
USA: Fox Sports 2, Fox Soccer 2Go

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.