It’s time for the Champions League playoff round to begin. We’re less than an hour away from kickoff, the lineups are in, and Napoli and OGC Nice are ready to battle it out in the first leg of their winner-take-all tie for a place in the group stage.
It’s a huge match with a lot on the line, so it’s little surprise that Maurizio Sarri has named his first-choice lineup for the occasion, with Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, and Jose Callejon spearheading the attack. There had been some question as to who would start in midfield alongside Marek Hamsik and Jorginho, but in the end Sarri opted to go with the defensive quality and work rate of Allan over the creativity of Piotr Zielinski, who will still be available off the bench to make a late-game impact if needed.
Nice, however, went with a much more conservative setup than initially expected, with five defenders and four midfielders backing a lone striker in Alassane Plea. That’s perhaps not a huge shock playing on the road with their two best attacking players out in Mario Balotelli and Wesley Sneijder, but it is perhaps a little disappointing to see Nice setting up to play heavily defensive when they’re capable of more than that.
Still, Napoli will have to work very hard to break down what looks like it will be a very packed-in defense. They should expect to see the vast majority of possession, but cannot afford to lose focus for a moment, because Nice are very capable of hitting hard on the counter. Napoli must be at their best here, and they must find a way to break Nice’s defense down early and often to take a big advantage to France in the second leg of the tie.
Napoli: Pepe Reina; Elseid Hysaj, Raul Albiol, Kalidou Koulibaly, Faouzi Ghoulam; Allan, Jorginho, Marek Hamsik; Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne
Nice: Yoan Cardinale; Christophe Jallet, Arnaud Souquet, Dante, Maxime Le Marchand, Malang Sarr; Pierre Lees-Melou, Jean Michael Seri, Vincent Koziello, 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.