Serie A leaders Napoli try to kick-start their Europa League campaign on Thursday evening, as they welcome Group C rivals Legia Warsaw to Stadio Maradona.
By contrast with their hosts, who have maintained a perfect record in the league but stuttered in Europe, group leaders Legia have lost their last two league games ahead of the trip to Naples.
Though their scintillating start to Serie A continued on Sunday, as a late header from in-form striker Victor Osimhen earned a 1-0 win over Torino, this week Napoli must turn their attention towards making up lost ground in continental competition.
They remain winless in the Europa League following the first two fixtures of a competitive Group C, so already trail Thursday’s visitors by five points as they prepare for a double-header with their Polish counterparts over the next two weeks.
While a point gained on the opening night was well received due to the Azzurri’s Osimhen-inspired comeback in a 2-2 draw with Leicester, events at the Maradona late last month leave them with much work to do in order to progress.
Despite scoring the second-fastest goal ever recorded in Europa League history, when Eljif Elmas found the net after just under 13 seconds, Napoli eventually lost 3-2 at home to Spartak Moscow on the second matchday, with Mario Rui’s dismissal on the half-hour mark perhaps proving the pivotal moment.
Thanks to two further domestic victories either side of the international break, Luciano Spalletti’s men have since maintained a perfect start to the Serie A season, and they lead the way in Italy by two points from closest challengers Milan. Their eighth win on the spin equals a record set under Maurizio Sarri in 2017-18, and came despite captain Lorenzo Insigne missing a penalty for the second game in succession.
However, if they are to prolong their record of never failing to qualify from a Europa League group, Napoli must now bring that winning momentum onto the continental stage.
Having made it five qualifications out of five last season – when they finished top of their section with 11 points – Spalletti and company will be eager to pick up points in pursuit of reaching the knockout stages once more this term.
While their next opponents have toiled during the opening throes of Group C, Legia have thrived; posting a second successive 1-0 win at the end of September to lead the group by three points.
The Legionisci beat a much-changed Leicester City side last time out, when the game was decided by the only goal – scored by Azeri striker Mahir Emreli, who drilled a low shot in off the post just after the half-hour mark.
That victory in Warsaw followed a stoppage-time winner at Spartak on the first matchday, leaving the Polish champions in pole position to qualify from a group they were considered outsiders in before the competition commenced.
Having won the league for the second year in a row last spring – their fifth triumph in six seasons and a record-breaking 15th time in all – their latest defence of the Ekstraklasa title has begun in surprisingly shambolic style, though.
Czeslaw Michniewicz has seen his side’s fortunes wane worryingly during the past few weeks, as they conceded three at home to Rakow and then away at Lechia Gdansk, before going down 1-0 to table-topping Lech Poznan at the weekend.
Having begun their European campaign at the height of summer in the Champions League first qualifying round, Legia will not want to let their domestic woes seep into a successful Europa League group phase, as they travel to Campania for a fixture at one of football’s most evocative venues.
Napoli Europa League form:
Napoli form (all competitions):
Legia Warsaw Europa League form:
Legia Warsaw form (all competitions):
We say: Napoli 2-1 Legia Warsaw
Whether Napoli can secure their first win this week will depend heavily on selection, as a full-strength team in top gear would prove more than a match for a Legia side who have lost three of their last four.
However, it may not be a straightforward march to maximum points for the Partenopei, as the Polish champions are yet to concede in Europe and have built confidence in this competition with their win over Leicester.