SSC Napoli vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Tuesday, November 21, 19:45 BT/20:45 CET – Stadio San Paolo, Italy.
Before the competition kicked off, you might have been forgiven for thinking that Group F in this season’s Champions League was a done deal. With Manchester City finally coming to terms with the much-touted ‘Guardiola Style of Play’ and Napoli coming out of the starting blocks like a team looking to make up for lost time having finally fathomed thirty-year-old Dries Mertens’s best position, many people had written off the other two members of the group before the competition had even begun. But then, in the opening fixture of the group, Shakhtar Donetsk turned over an uncharacteristically cautious Napoli side in Ukraine and the group was blown open. With Napoli putting all their resources into a long-hoped-for Scuddeto, the advantage in Group F has swung in Shakhtar’s favour, making Tuesday night’s encounter between Napoli and the Donbass club the battle for the coveted second-place spot.
Napoli may find themselves two points clear at the top of Serie A but their encounter with Shakhtar Donetsk this week comes off the back of their worst run of form so far this season. Of course, for a club playing as well as Maurizio Sarri’s are, a bad run of form may not represent much of a dip. But for a club who find themselves on the cusp of dropping out of Europe’s most prestigious competition, anything below their best could prove costly.
Having lost their 100% win record in Serie A against Chievo just before the international break, Gli Azzurri did manage to return to winning form last weekend after putting two goals past an ailing Milan team who could only manage one in return. However, their recent form in the Champions League is still very much in need of a reversal. Losing three of the last four, with the only win in that run coming against group stragglers Feyenoord, Napoli find themselves six points adrift of Shakhtar in second place. Unless they win on Tuesday, then, it will be the Ukrainian team who will progress at Napoli’s expense.
For Shakhtar, therefore, a draw at the Stadio San Paolo will be enough to take them into the Round of 16. Worryingly for them, though, they come into the game having lost this weekend in the Ukrainian Premier Liga to tenth-placed FK Oleksandria. Fielding a full-strength XI, the league leaders couldn’t overcome a 2-1 deficit despite having most of the game to turn things around. Paulo Fonseca will hope that any pre-match nerves will be dispelled by the time his team make the trip to Italy on Tuesday. In the home fixture against Napoli in the Champions League, the Miners were well worth their 2-1 win in the end. However, on that occasion, Belgian talisman Dries Mertens was rested, only coming on after an hour of play. This time around, Dries Mertens will be starting and the Serie A league leaders will be desperate for the win that is necessary for them to stay in the competition.
SSC Napoli vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Players to Watch Out For
Lorenzo Insigne #24 – SSC Napoli
While Dries Mertens has been picking up most of the plaudits this season, his teammate Lorenzo Insigne has been equally impressive. In Serie A this season, he has picked up four goals and four assists in the thirteen games he has played. Arriving in Naples in 2011 from Serie B side Foggia, Insigne has become a regular for Napoli, picking up 21 caps for Italy since his arrival. As a result of his small stature and skill on the ball, his former Napoli teammate Goran Pandev used to refer to him as the ‘Italian Messi’. Played as an inverted winger, Insigne likes to cut inside to curl shots in with his stronger foot. Napoli fans will be hoping he will come out strongly on Tuesday and help carry his team to the next round of the Champions League.
Bernard #10 – Shakhtar Donetsk
The Brazilian, Bernard, is Shakhtar Donetsk’s biggest star. Deemed one of the most exciting playmakers in world football, Shakhtar signed the Brazilian wunderkind from Atlético Mineiro for €25 million in 2013 to replace Henrikh Mkhitaryan. However, Bernard never really fulfilled his potential in his first season and was one of the biggest disappointments during the 2014 FIFA World Cup back in his native Brazil. In the end, it took him almost two full years to recover from that tournament. More recently, though, Shakhtar’s diminutive number 10 has had a real renaissance under head coach, Paulo Fonseca. Nowadays, Bernard looks like the Brazilian talent half of Europe tried to get on their books back in 2013.
SSC Napoli vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Match Stats
- Napoli went down 2-1 in Ukraine on matchday one in the first meeting between these sides, and have collected only three points from four matches.
- Shakhtar have registered a win and a defeat in their Group F away fixtures, losing 2-0 at Manchester City on Matchday Two before a 2-1 success at Feyenoord.
- Napoli are unbeaten in their three home matches against visitors from Ukraine (W1 D2), most recently drawing 0-0 with FC Dynamo Kyiv in last season’s group stage.
- The Ukrainian team have struggled in Italy, where their record is W1 D2 L6 – although they posted a 1-1 draw at Juventus on their most recent visit, in the 2012/13 group stage.
- Their sole win was a 2011 triumph at AS Roma (3-2) the trip before that, setting up a 6-2 round of 16 aggregate victory.
Futbolgrad Prediction: SSC Napoli vs Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0
SSC Napoli vs Shakhtar Donetsk – Possible Starting Lineups
Reina – Hysaj, Chiriches, Albiol, Rui – Hamsik, Jorginho, Allan – Callejon, Mertens, Insigne
Manager: Maurizio Sarri
Pyatov – Ismaily, Rakitskiy, Ordets, Butko – Fred, Stepanenko – Marlos, Taison, Bernard – Ferreyra
Manager: Paulo Fonseca
Jon Mackenzie has a portfolio career which includes freelance journalism, cryptic crossword setting, bar tending and lecturing at universities, amongst other things. You can follow his tweets @Jon_Mackenzie, listen to his podcasts at ateamofjohnosheas.com and read his writes at jonmackenzie.com.