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An outsider’s view on how Napoli can beat Real Madrid

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Our Barcelona friend returns with some tips on how Napoli can cause an upset on Wednesday.

SSC Napoli v US Citta di Palermo - Serie A Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

So Napoli play this little thing called the Champions League Round of 16 match against Real Madrid on Wednesday, and this should be a pretty fun game to watch. Of course, it’ll be incredibly nervous for Napoli and Madrid fans, but even they can’t deny we’re in for a treat.

Real Madrid have a pretty good team – we’ve covered them at length already --, and now it’s time to talk about what Napoli have to do. Going to the Bernabéu against the defending champions seems like a monumental task, but the Gli Azzurri have the tools to pull off the upset, not only at Madrid’s ground but in the tie itself. They just can’t be anything other than themselves.

Napoli have a fantastic team going forward, and they love to attack and control games. They can defend and counter-attack, but as we know the DNA of Sarri’s side is to never stop looking for the next chance, never relinquish control and use all the offensive weapons to create hell in the opposing defense. It has worked quite well this season, and the team shouldn’t deviate from what makes them good.

The gameplan for this one should be pretty simple: survive the early onslaught from Madrid, because it is coming. Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t had the best of seasons (on his own standards, of course), and he usually loves to play really well in European nights, which means he and his friends be looking to test Pepe Reina and the Napoli back four early with a barrage of attack. There’ll be crosses, there’ll be shots from everywhere, and there’ll be some big pressure in the initial minutes.

If Napoli can weather the early storm and get a couple of dangerous trips on the counter, they’ll force Madrid to retreat a little, and that’s where the visitors can get control. If they do, then it’s a pretty simple strategy: feed the little beast. Just give the ball to Dries Mertens and get out of the way. He’s in such absurd form that he can create everything on his own, and his pace will be insane for Madrid defenders to cope with.

Of course, players like Lorenzo Insigne and José Callejón (who will be playing against his old club) need to provide support to Mertens, and Marek Hamsik’s ability to create offense from the midfield is vital, but if Little Dries is at his best, he can find an away goal or two on his own.

If Napoli do take control of possession and play in Madrid’s half, they’ll need to watch for counter attacks. Real have a habit of killing teams with that and they will if they get multiple chances to break.

A dream scenario for Napoli would be an early goal. If they can get that and make the Bernabéu nervous right away, they’ll have a lot of minutes and counter attacks to work with. The pressure will be crazy, but an away goal is giant and the men from Naples will be looking for that. If it comes quickly, even better.

Real Madrid will be favorites, and deservedly so. They have the better team, they are the champions, and they play at home. But they’re not unstoppable, and Napoli have some weapons who can hurt the Blancos. Napoli don’t need to change what makes them very good just because it’s Madrid. It’s the opportunity to test themselves against the best, and they could end up with a very positive and surprising result. We don’t know what’ll happen, but this will be very fun.