It's time again for Napoli to turn their eye to Europe as Russian side Dynamo Moscow come to Naples to start the Europa League round of sixteen, the second knockout round of the competition. While many are writing Dynamo off as an easy opponent, they're anything but, and it's going to take one heck of a performance to get past them.
Proving Their Value
Despite being 11 time winners of Russia's top division, Dynamo Moscow don't get a ton of respect. The club - once tied to a sporting group affiliated with the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs, better known as the KGB - has been something of an also-ran in Russia for decades, winning no trophies since the mid-90's and have struggled for relevancy in recent years.
Now though, under Stanislav Cherchesov, Dynamo is becoming steadily more powerful in Russia. Now with a side built around a core of talented and mostly young Russians and supplemented by experienced and quality foreign veterans, they've done very well so far in this season's Europa League campaign, going undefeated so far, a run that includes two wins over a tough opponent in PSV.
They're not going to be easy to break down, though Napoli do represent a significant challenge for Dynamo as they've oft struggled against teams and talents like theirs over the last couple of years. The specific risk for Napoli, though, is that Zenit are very good at both earning and converting set pieces, a weakness of Napoli's that has hurt them too often this season.
The Need To Start Strong
The story for Napoli is simple: start strong, start fast, and don't let up. Napoli need to get as many goals as they can in this leg while trying desperately not to give up away goals, because the second leg in Moscow is going to be a rotten jerk of a time to get a positive result.
That means a full-strength lineup - thank goodness Napoli can rotate against Hellas Verona this weekend - and a performance with more focus and drive than we've seen from Napoli in an uncomfortable amount of time. Fortunately the only assured absences are the players we already know and expect - Lorenzo Insigne still isn't fit to return, Christian Maggio and Walter Gargano are still dinged up, and neither Ivan Strinic nor Michu are registered for their own reasons.
Just please, please, please don't screw this up Napoli. We need this to go well.
Projected Lineups Sure To Be Wrong
Napoli: Andujar; Mesto, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Lopez, Inler; Gabbiadini, Hamsik, De Guzman; Higuain
Dynamo: Gabulov; Kozlov, Douglas, Samba, Buttner; Denisov, Vainqueur; Ionov, Valbuena, Dzsudzsak; Kokorin
At A Glance
Dynamo: 3rd; 11W 2D 4L; League Form: WWWDWW
Napoli: 4th; 13W 7D 6L; League Form: DLWLWW
TV: Premium Calcio 1 (Italy), NTV Russia (Russia)
Online: Fox Soccer 2Go, ESPN3 (U.S.), Sportsnet World Now (Canada), Premium Play (Italy), NTV+ Sport Online (Russia)
There appears to be no live English-language television coverage of this match, other than swingaround-style coverage on Fox Soccer Plus, a channel not many have and will be far from dedicated to covering this match. 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 updates of the most important events on our Facebook page, which you should definitely like.