Napoli were handed a tough task on Monday when the Champions League draw ended with them paired up with Real Madrid in the round of 16. The immediate reaction from much of the fanbase involved a lot of sighing and muttering of four-letter-words, but not everything is terrible — Napoli still have a chance to shock the world and advance in this tie.
The biggest thing that Napoli have going for them in this draw is that, as the team drawn out of the group winners’ pot, they have home-field advantage in the tie. That means that the second and decisive leg of the tie will be played at the Stadio San Paolo, an environment that thrives in chaos, and where absolutely anything can happen. If Napoli can keep things close at the Santiago Bernabeu and snag an away goal or two — a task that Napoli are certainly capable of — then anything is possible.
That’s not to say that Napoli are guaranteed to win. Real Madrid are the defending Champions League winners, after all, and their performances this season in the Champions League and La Liga have shown that they haven’t missed much of a beat this year. They’re starting to pull away from the pack in Spain as the league leaders, and that kind of confidence and momentum is a huge weapon, especially in the hands of a team that’s arguably the most talented in Europe.
But Napoli have a talented squad themselves, and one that can, if things break right, expose some vulnerabilities in Madrid’s side. For all their quality on the counter attack, something that should scare Napoli fans, Madrid are awfully vulnerable on the counter themselves, which the partenopei can definitely take advantage of. They’re also prone to making mistakes on the ball in their half of the field, something they’re rarely punished for in La Liga play, but also something that an opportunistic attack like Napoli’s can take ruthlessly exploit.
There’s also the hope that Arkadiusz Milik will be back by then, bringing back a dimension and lethality to Napoli’s attack that made them look near-unstoppable early in the season. Plus, there’s a fair likelihood that Napoli will make a few changes in the January transfer window, hopefully adding depth and impact to the squad that will give them even better chances against the titans of Europe.
It’s not going to be easy. To be honest, Napoli will probably lose the tie. But it’s far from over just because of who they’ve been drawn against, and there’s still every chance that, with a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work on the pitch, they can shock the world and de-throne Real Madrid.
Napoli will head to Spain to play Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on February 15th, with the return leg coming to the Stadio San Paolo on March 7th. No matter what, the San Paolo will be rocking in that match — let’s just hope it’s in celebration by the time the final whistle blows.