Eight days on from their thumping win in Amsterdam, Group A leaders Napoli face Ajax again, as they seek to secure a place in the Champions League knockout stage at Stadio Maradona.
The teams reconvene on Wednesday evening, with the hosts able to assure progress by beating their Dutch counterparts for a second time; the visitors need points to stay in touch with Liverpool.
Further burnishing their reputation as one of Europe’s most fluent attacking units, Napoli ruthlessly disposed of their third straight Champions League opponent last week; coming from behind to hammer a shell-shocked Ajax 6-1 in Amsterdam.
The Partenopei recorded a ninth win from 11 matches, as in-form striker Giacomo Raspadori headed home the equaliser at Johan Cruijff ArenA, before they found themselves 3-1 ahead at the break. During the second half, Raspadori notched his second and then laid on a Khvicha Kvaratskhelia strike for good measure.
Another summertime arrival, Giovanni Simeone, netted a sixth late on, as Napoli swept clear at the top of Group A and truly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in continental competition.
After another storming success in Europe – following successive three-goal victories over both Liverpool and Rangers – they followed up by unleashing a further flood of goals in Serie A on Sunday.
Upon their return to domestic duty, Luciano Spalletti’s side visited lowly Cremonese, and they doled out more destruction to an opposing defence – scoring three times in the final 15 minutes to secure a 4-1 win. That result keeps the Campanian club top of the pile in Italy, and after Atalanta’s draw at the weekend, they now sit two points clear.
One of only two unbeaten sides left in Serie A after nine rounds, Napoli have found the net 22 times in the process, allied to a tally of 13 goals in the Champions League already.
Therefore, Spalletti’s ambitions of taking the Neapolitan outfit beyond the last-16 for the first time could well come to fruition when the knockout phase kicks off after the World Cup – first, though, they must make sure of qualification.
So soon after suffering the club’s heaviest-ever defeat in European competition, Ajax are required to face down the team that dealt out such a drubbing, and there is no time for to dwell on their misfortune, as progress from Group A is still very much up for grabs.
Having hit Rangers for four on the opening night, Alfred Schreuder’s men were then beaten by a late goal at Anfield midway through last month, so have posted three points so far: they sit the same number behind second-placed Liverpool.
Following his opening goal against Napoli at Johan Cruijff ArenA, Ghana striker Mohammed Kudus has scored in all three matches, and the Dutch giants have not lacked for firepower in the Eredivisie either.
Nine games into the 2022-23 season, Ajax lie second in the standings and have lost just one game, while racking up 27 goals and conceding just eight: Saturday’s 4-2 win at Volendam leaves them one point adrift of AZ Alkmaar at the summit.
The four-time European champions, of course, defied the odds to reach the final four in 2019, but a series of departures since – perhaps none more significant than that of coach Erik ten Hag – has left a new-look side searching for its identity under Schreuder.
Time is of the essence, so the former Club Brugge manager will need to convince his charges they can recover from consecutive Champions League defeats and start picking up points again.
Napoli Champions League form:
Napoli form (all competitions):
Ajax Champions League form:
Ajax form (all competitions):
We say: Napoli 2-1 Ajax
Having now won eight times in a row for the first time in club history, Napoli’s confidence could not be higher. However, Ajax still bear the scars from last week and will take care not to make the same mistakes again, so it could be a closer contest this time between two attractive sides.