One week ago all the talk was of who Napoli would face in the final of this seasons Europa League so sure was everyone that the southern Italian giants would blow away FC Dnipro in the semi-final first leg at the Stadio San Paolo.
Seven days later after a 1-1 draw, the Ukrainian side have a precious away goal which gives them the advantage going into Thursday’s second leg at the Dnipro Arena. Napoli have been rattled by the controversial late equaliser scored by substitute strikerYevhenSeleznyov last week, replays showing the player was standing in an offside position as he grabbed a shock goal for his team. Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis questioned the ability of Norwegian referee Svein Moen in a dramatic post match press conference as the pressure started to mount ahead of the return fixture. The Vesuviani fared no better on Sunday away to Parma, a 2-2 draw saw them drop more vital points in their bid for Champions League qualification next season, the match ending with striker Gonzalo Higuain having to be restrained by club officials after an altercation with Parma goalkeeper Antonio Mirante.
Coach Rafael Benitez will want his top scorer fully focused on Thursday evening which has now become Napoli’s biggest game of the season so far. The Spanish tactician has almost a full squad of players to select from, the only absentees being Juan Zúñiga and Jonathan de Guzmán.
Benitez has a fantastic record in this competition winning the trophy in 2004 with Valencia and in 2013 with Chelsea and is likely to keep faith with the starting XI that took to the field at the San Paolo seven days ago, using a 4-2-3-1 system allowing full backs Christian Maggio and FaouziGoulam to try to get behind the Dnipro rear guard. In form Slovakian midfielder Marek Hamšík will be pivotal for Napoli, his performances in recent weeks have been sensational and the clubs fanatical supporters will want more of the same on Thursday.
Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain is quite simply a goal scoring machine and the Napoli hitman already has seven goals to his name in the competition this season and had enough chances to equal that tally in the first leg – Napoli will hope his luck will change for the return in the Ukraine.
Dnipro coach Myron Markevych rested most of the team that started the game in Italy for last weekend’s 2-0 home defeat by Zorya. Only three players, goalkeeper Denis Boyko and the midfield duo of ValeriyFedorchuk and JabaKankava took part in the match as the coach made it clear where his priorities lay.
Thursday night is arguably the biggest night in the clubs history and hopes will be pinned on Croatian striker Nikola Kalinić who, whilst being the clubs top scorer in their domestic league with 12 goals, hasn’t found the net in European competitionsince a 2-2 draw away to Olympiakos in February. The match is balanced on a knife-edge, Napoli are looking to reach their first European final since 1989, Dnipro are looking to achieve a minor miracle that no-one could have predicted back in August.
Our Probable Formations:
Dnipro (4-2-3-1) Boyko; Fedetskiy, Douglas, Cheberyachko, Leo Matos; Kankava, Fedorchuk; Luchkevych, Rotan, Konoplyanka; Kalinić
Napoli(4-2-3-1) Andújar, Ghoulam, Britos, Albiol, Maggio; Jorginho, David López; Insigne, HamšíkCallejón; Higuain