Spalletti has reasons to fear and work to do as Napoli and Milan prepare for return leg

By Oliver Fisher -

A lot was expected of Napoli when they faced AC Milan in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League, but they lost the first leg, 1-0, thanks to a goal from Ismael Bennacer at the San Siro.

Napoli have a 16-point lead over Lazio in Serie A and can win their first Scudetto in 33 years in the next few weeks, but achieving European glory would be far more difficult. 

With a match-up against AC Milan in the quarterfinals and a potential matchup against the winner of Inter and Benfica in the semifinals, Spalletti’s squad is among the favourites to reach the Champions League final this season. 

Napoli must beat AC Milan in the second game at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Tuesday to advance. Napoli has already lost twice this month against Milan, both by scores of 4-0, with Stefano Pioli’s squad earning a perfect 5-0 shutout. Napoli has reason to be quite concerned, and I’ll explain why. 

Napoli will have to make up for the loss of numerous key players right off the bat. A red card in the first leg at San Siro will keep Korean defender Kim Min-Jae out of the second leg in Naples, while a yellow card will do the same for Cameroonian midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa.

Without these two players, Spalletti will have to rely on his bench. Also, attacker Giovanni Simone will be absent for the entire month after being diagnosed with a first-degree strain of the right hamstring and forced to sit out both Wednesday’s game and the second leg. 

The sole piece of encouraging information comes from Spalletti, who stated after the game against Milan that Osimhen would return next week. Victor will be fully available for Tuesday’s second match at the Maradona. “He’ll be coming along,” he confirmed

The Azzurri have had recent struggles without the Nigerian striker, as they have lost two of their previous three games, both against Milan. 

Napoli should be concerned about how Stefano Pioli won two games in a row in less than ten days against Italian opponents. Ismael Bennacer’s switch to the defensive number ten position and Pioli’s tactical system (he’s back to the 4-2-3-1) have altered the Rossoneri’s style of play in the last two matches.

The Partenopei have trouble coming from behind because of where Bennacer, who scored the game-winning goal in the first leg, is playing. Napoli’s Stanislav Lobotka is essential when the team initiates attacks from the defensive midfield.

At the same time, Bennacer’s pressure, aided by Sandro Tonali and Rade Krunic, has been a game-winning element in both Serie A and Champions League matches. Napoli’s amazing performances in the first leg occurred only when they could relieve the pressure, and this is no fluke. 

Last but not least, Napoli shouldn’t buckle beneath the difficult-to-master strain of her surroundings. The city and its inhabitants are excited to celebrate the league championship for the first time in 33 years, but this is likely putting too much pressure on the present team to repeat the feat.

Spalletti is aware of this and made his intentions clear in Wednesday’s postgame interview when he discussed the violence that broke out between Napoli supporters during the game against AC Milan ten days prior.

The violence stemmed from an old dispute between some ultras groups and the club’s owner, Aurelio De Laurentiis.

Napoli still had a chance to change the first leg’s result, as they were defeated by only one goal. Napoli’s only goal allowed was the best news of the night, and anything could happen next week. On the other hand, AC Milan could have taken greater advantage of the situation and is probably a little dissatisfied.

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