Preview: Legia Warsaw vs. Napoli

Preview: Legia Warsaw vs. Napoli

Serie A leaders Napoli continue their Europa League campaign on Thursday evening, as they look to seal a double over Group C rivals Legia Warsaw at Stadion Wojska Polskiego.

After a late breakthrough helped the Italian club to dispatch the Polish champions on home soil, another win would take them above their ailing opponents to the top of the standings.

Despite their domestic dominance in the opening quarter of the Serie A campaign, it took until Napoli’s third Europa League fixture to secure a first continental win, which leaves their progress to the last 32 still very much in jeopardy.

Trailing this Thursday’s hosts by five points ahead of the first part of a double-header, Luciano Spalletti’s side were still being held goalless in the final 15 minutes at Stadio Maradona, when Lorenzo Insigne struck with a crashing half-volley into the roof of Legia’s net.

Following their captain’s inspirational intervention, Napoli went on to add two more goals to their tally, and a 3-0 victory brings them within two points of the unlikely group leaders, in a section which also features Leicester City and Spartak Moscow.

Games against the latter pair resulted in just a solitary point from the first two matchdays, as only a Victor Osimhen-inspired comeback salvaged a draw with Leicester, and despite registering the second-fastest goal in Europa League history they then lost 3-2 at home to Spartak Moscow.

That ran counter to their electrifying form on the Italian peninsula, as the Azzurri have won 10 of their first 11 Serie A fixtures to stay locked on points with Milan at the top of the table.

Their latest success was of the scrappy variety, in a local derby with Salernitana on Sunday, when both teams ended with 10 men. It took Napoli over an hour to find a way through one of the league’s leakiest defences, as Piotr Zielinski netted the rebound after an Andrea Petagna header hit the bar.

As a result, the Scudetto hopefuls have now won five of their six away matches in domestic competition this term, conceding just three goals in the process. A trip to opponents suffering a crisis of confidence, then, should hold few fears for Spalletti and company on Thursday.

Having recorded a second successive 1-0 win to lead Group C by three points at the end of September, against the odds, Legia Warsaw found themselves in pole position to qualify for the knockout rounds.

However, their late collapse in Campania leaves them vulnerable to the three other sides competing for their Europa League survival – particularly should they fail to reverse an awful run of form on Thursday.

Crowned Polish champions for the second year in a row last spring – their fifth title in six seasons and a record-breaking 15th in all – Legia’s latest defence of the Ekstraklasa crown has started in somewhat shambolic fashion.

Following 11 matches, the Legionisci sit inside the relegation zone with just nine points – a full 19 adrift of leaders Lech Poznan, who have played two more games.

In fact, since their victory against an under-strength Leicester earlier in the competition, Lech are among six sides to have beaten the beleaguered team left behind by former coach Czeslaw Michniewicz, who was given his marching orders last month and replaced by current incumbent Marek Golebiewski.

With their only win last month coming in the Polish Cup, Golebiewski has much work to do if he is to help salvage their season. Given their strong start in Europe, though, an opportunity remains to reach the promised land of the last 32.

Legia Warsaw Europa League form:
Legia Warsaw form (all competitions):
Napoli Europa League form:
Napoli form (all competitions):

We say: Legia Warsaw 1-2 Napoli
Napoli can re-establish themselves as favourites to progress, after a sluggish start put them in some trouble before back-to-back games with Legia.

While their margin of victory may not be as wide as many expect – as they could take their foot off the gas if they secure a first-half lead – the visitors are riding the crest of a wave and will not be stopped by a stumbling home side.

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