It’s time to start determining Napoli’s Champions League future, because the Playoff round is here, and French side OGC Nice are in Naples to start their tie to see who makes the group stage. It’s a massive, high-pressure tie, and Napoli have very, very little room for error if they want to live up to the massive expectations weighing on this season.
For those unfamiliar with the format or who have forgotten, this playoff tie will be played out over two legs. Unlike the rest of the “seeded” teams in the playoff round — the teams with the top-ranked UEFA club coefficients among those playing this round — Napoli must start the tie at home and finish on the road, but instead of pouting about it, they’re going to look to use that to their advantage to build a commanding lead against their French foes to put the tie away early.
But to do that, they’re going to have to beat a Nice side that should not be overlooked. Easily the best of the “unseeded” teams in the draw, they’re still a threat that must be handled carefully. They’ll be without their two best players — the injured duo of Mario Balotelli and newly-signed Wesley Sneijder — but if Napoli don’t respect them and play at their best, Nice and their strong counter-attack and solid defense can easily give Napoli a lot of problems and even beat them if things go wrong.
So it is that Napoli will have to be focused and driven, showing the kind of lethal edge that helped them beat Bayern Munich in the Audi Cup and the hunger that’s constantly driven them to the highest levels they can manage in Serie A, even when they’ve rarely had the same talent as some of the other teams around them. Napoli can win this tie, and win it easily — simply put, they’re better than Nice and should win solely based on that. But they can’t simply rest on “should” and “ought to.” Napoli have to go out and perform at the best level they’re capable of being, because anything less risks courting disaster.
Napoli (4-3-3): Pepe Reina; Elseid Hysaj, Raul Albiol, Kalidou Koulibaly, Faouzi Ghoulam; Allan, Jorginho, Marek Hamsik; Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne
OGC Nice (4-2-3-1): Yoan Cardinale; Arnaud Souquet, Dante, Maxime Le Marchand, Malang Sarr; Vincent Koziello, Jean Micheal Seri; Pierre Lees-Melou, Hicham Mahou, Allan Saint-Maximin; Alassane Plea
Match info, plus how to watch on TV and stream
Match Date/Time: Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, 8:45 p.m. local
Venue: Stadio San Paolo, Naples, Italy
TV: Fox Sports 1 (U.S. - English), Fox Deportes (U.S. - Spanish), RSI La 2, PremiumSport HD (Italy), BT Sport 3 (U.K.)
Online: Fox Soccer Match Pass, Fox Sports Go (U.S.), Premium Play (Italy), BT Sport Live Streaming (U.K.)
Listings for more countries can be found at LiveSoccerTV.