The draw for the Champions League round of 16 is here, and Napoli fans await it with bated breath. They know that no matter who the partenopei draw, it’s going to be a tough battle — but some battles are easier to win than others. No matter what, the result of this draw is going to be huge, and it could help change the course of Napoli’s season.
As a Champions League group winner, Napoli are in the same pot as the rest of the winners, meaning they cannot play any of those clubs in the round of 16. They also cannot play against Benfica as they were in the same group, and they would also be unable to play another Italian team. As Juventus are also in the group winners pot, though, that restriction doesn’t matter.
That leaves Napoli with seven potential opponents in the next round:
- Paris Saint-Germain (France, 12 group points, 3rd in Ligue 1)
- Manchester City (England, 9 group points, 4th in EPL)
- Bayern Munich (Germany, 12 group points, 1st in Bundesliga)
- Bayer Leverkusen (Germany, 10 group points, 8th in Bundesliga)
- Real Madrid (Spain, 12 group points, 1st in La Liga)
- Porto (Portugal, 11 group points, 2nd in Primeira Liga)
- Sevilla (Spain, 11 group points, 3rd in La Liga)
All seven are tough opponents, but there are a couple of matchups in there that Napoli should feel confident about being able to handle.
Teams to hope for: Bayer Leverkusen, Porto
Napoli fans have bad memories about facing Porto in the Europa League, but this Porto team is not as good as the one that gave the partenopei fits. They’re also not as good as the Benfica team that Napoli handled with relative ease twice, including a match in Portugal that saw Napoli break a long run of frustration in Portugal. With that buoying the team’s confidence, there’s little reason to think that Napoli cannot beat Porto this time around.
Bayer Levekusen represent a much different challenge, but the German team advanced to the knockout rounds by being better than two very poorly-performing teams in their group more than through their own strengths. They’ve struggled badly this season, sinking far down the Bundesliga table, and they look like a shell of the entertaining team from the last two years. If there was ever a time for Napoli to make a big push over a major German side, this is the time and this is the team to do it against.
Teams to avoid: Real Madrid, Bayern Munich
Real Madrid are the defending Champions League winners, the runaway leaders of La Liga, and arguably the single most talented and best-performing team in Europe right now. They failed to win their group, yes, but that was more down to a jaw-dropping run of continental form from Borussia Dortmund than to any particular failure of Los Merengues. Worse, they’re a dreadful matchup for Napoli, with the best counter attack on the continent and several dangerous players with a knack for dropping the ball into the exact kinds of areas that Napoli have trouble with.
Bayern Munich might be an even worse matchup problem for Napoli, though. Despite the German giants being in unimpressive form under Italian legend Carlo Ancelotti of late, the combination of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller in attack, supported by the likes of Douglas Costa, Thiago Alcantara, Alex Vidal, and David Alaba are a perfect storm of the kinds of players and tactical matchups that would throw Napoli fits. It would take a miracle for Napoli to beat Bayern, one that’s not easy to see happening.
Most likely draw: Sevilla
Something just feels inevitable about this draw. Napoli have been a regular power in the Europa League the last few years, but never wound up facing off with Sevilla, who won the last three consecutive Europa League titles. Now with both in the Champions League knockout rounds, it seems only right that these two finally square off, and it’s a matchup with all the potential for an evenly-matched classic of a tie.
Of course, Porto is extremely likely as well, just because UEFA thinks it’s funny to have repetitive matchups. Yeah, it’s probably going to be Porto.
Where: Nyon, Switzerland
When: Monday, 12 p.m. CET. 6 a.m. ET
TV: Fox Sports 1 (U.S.), Eurosport (Italy), BT Sport 2, Eurosport (U.K.)
Online: Fox Sports Go (U.S.), BT Sport Live Streaming (U.K.), UEFA.tv