Ah, the Europa League. Either an interesting change of pace, or a useless distraction, all depending on your perspective. This match certainly has the feel of the former -- Napoli have secured advancement and tying up the top spot in the group is a mere formality right now, and with a bit match coming up this weekend and a growing injury list, this particular game feels like a bit of a waste.
But play they must, and so Napoli are in Belgium, getting ready to play Club Brugge in front of an empty stadium. This should be ... something.
Napoli are just one point away from having the top spot in their group locked up, and doing that with a match to spare would be wonderful. It's going to be a tough task, though -- Napoli are running light in terms of their squad, with Gonzalo Higuain, Pepe Reina, Jorginho, and Raul Albiol all staying behind in Italy, and both Dries Mertens and Manolo Gabbiadini are still out hurt.
That means we'll see a heavily adjusted squad with a lot of backups playing, and potentially a couple of reserves or Primavera players getting time during the match. Frankly, if there's any game Napoli can punt right now, it's this one. They're on the road, with a bigger match this weekend, injuries piling up -- and their last Europa League group stage match is at home against the last-place side in the group. A loss breaking Napoli's long unbeaten streak would be unfortunate, but hardly the end of the world. Napoli know that there are bigger fish to fry, so they could be forgiven for not focusing entirely on this match.
The difference between foreign and domestic
Club Brugge are a talented side who are doing well in the Jupiler League, sitting just two points behind league-leading Gent, with solid attacking and defensive records. The story has been a different one in the Europa Leauge, though -- they've won just one match in the whole group stage and drawn one other, both results coming against Legia Warsaw. They've scored just three goals so far in the group, but at least they only gave up four others in matches not against Napoli.
Such drastic shifts between domestic and European form aren't entirely unusual for smaller teams with less European experience. They generally have shorter depth charts, and fatigue catches up in a big way as they struggle to effectively rotate their teams across several competitive fronts. Add a few injuries into the mix, and you have where Brugge stand.
Still, Michel Preud'homme and his team aren't out of the Europa League hunt just yet. They're two points behind Midtjylland with a match against the Danish side in the last round, but a positive result against Napoli -- in other words, anything but a loss -- would go a long ways towards improving their confidence in getting a win in that final match. With Napoli fielding a highly weakened side and Club Brugge will have that extra edge desperation brings, that might just be enough to get the job done.
Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong
Club Brugge: Bruzzese; Meunier, Mechele, Duarte, Bolingoli-Mbombo; Vormer, Simons, Vazquez; Diaby, Vossen, Izquierdo
Napoli: Gabriel; Maggio, Chiriches, Koulibaly, Strinic; Allan, Valdifiori, Lopez; Hamsik; Insigne, Callejon
At A Glance
Club Brugge: 2nd in Jupiler League; 10W 1D 5L; League Form: WWWWL
Napoli: 2nd in Serie A; 8W 4D 1L; League Form: WWDWW
Reverse Fixture: Napoli 5-0 Club Brugge
Napoli earned their first win of the season against Club Brugge, blasting them 5-0 at home. Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens both bagged braces, and Marek Hamsik got a goal of his own as Napoli dominated their Belgian opponents, and that performace sparked Napoli's remarkable turnaround in form from their cold start to the season. Interestingly, Brugge goalkeeper Sinan Bolat also has only played one match since then, with Napoli apparently convincing Preud'homme that he needed a different man in goal to succeed.
TV: Fox Soccer Plus (U.S.), TSN1 (Canada), Sky Calcio 1, Sky Sport 1 HD Italia (Italy), Club RTL (Belgium)
Online: Fox Soccer 2 Go, ESPN3 (U.S.), BT Sport Live Streaming (U.K.)
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