Soccer Champions League - Play-Offs 16 March 2023
Napoli vs Eintracht Frankfurt - Match Preview
Napoli responded to just their second loss of the Serie A season by comfortably beating Atalanta last time out, increasing their gap at the summit to an almighty 18 points. A first Scudetto since 1990 now looks like a formality, so the Partenopei can turn their attention to reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League (UCL) for the first time in their history.
A dominant 2-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg puts Luciano Spalletti’s men firmly in the driver’s seat ahead of the return fixture, as Napoli have lost just one home game by a three-goal margin since 2013. Spalletti said ‘we want to reach the stars in what could be a historic season, and a dominant home record in the UCL could go some way to achieving that, with no side beating them at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in this competition since 2017 (W8, D3).
Frankfurt make one of the most daunting trips in Europe in the midst of a four-game winless run (D2, L2), with the Eagles’ latest setback coming in a 1-1 draw against relegation-threatened Stuttgart. Coach Oliver Glasner believes his side is ‘capable of extraordinary achievements and their positive record against Italian sides on the continental stage certainly suggests they could pull another rabbit out of the hat (W5, D2, L3).
The German outfit saw two of their three group stage victories come on the road, but they’re the lowest scorers still left in the competition (GF: 7), so overturning a two-goal deficit appears unlikely. Frankfurt are also without an away win since November (D4, L2), meaning Glasner’s men have a huge mountain to climb in Naples.
📋 Key battle: After scoring a ‘Maradona-like goal’ against Atalanta, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia now averages a direct goal contribution per game this season (G13, A15). Trying to keep him out will be Frankfurt shot stopper Kevin Trapp, who has seen only two keepers still in the UCL make more than his 22 saves.
⚡ Hot stat: Napoli’s UCL matches average four goals per game this season - the second-highest among teams remaining in the competition.
Real Madrid vs Liverpool - Match Preview
Real Madrid welcome Liverpool to the Santiago Bernabéu after a commanding 5-2 comeback win in the first leg placed them on the cusp of ending their visitor's UEFA Champions League (UCL) dreams for a third successive season. That was Madrid’s sixth win in the last seven meetings (D1) between the two continental juggernauts, a run that includes last season’s UCL final which captured the Spanish giants a record-extending 14th European Cup/UCL crown.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men have performed uncharacteristically since that whopping win at Anfield though, with their 3-1 success against Espanyol at the weekend being their only win in the four subsequent matches (D2, L1). Despite that form, history is firmly on their side here as out of the 37 ties in UEFA competition where Real Madrid was victorious in the first leg away from home, they’ve failed to progress to the next stage only twice!
It would therefore take a monumental Liverpool effort to ruin Madrid’s 300th UCL game (the first club to reach the milestone), but the task at hand isn’t completely foreign to the Merseysiders. They’re one of just four teams to have overturned a UCL first-leg deficit of 3+ goals, doing so against Madrid’s fierce rivals Barcelona en route to their sixth European Cup/UCL in 2018/19, though that famous night did come at Anfield.
The Reds will need to emulate a performance likened to their second-leg display in the 2008/09 UCL last 16, where they inflicted what is still Madrid’s heaviest UCL defeat with a 4-0 win. Coming off a 1-0 loss to Premier League strugglers Bournemouth provides the worst possible curtain-raiser for manager Jürgen Klopp though, whose history against Carlo Ancelotti doesn’t serve to inspire either (W3, D3, L6).
📋 Players to watch: Madrid will hope Vinícius Júnior can continue his love affair with Liverpool, having racked up remarkable six-goal contributions in five H2Hs (G5, A1). He’ll be looking to outperform Liverpool’s red-hot Mohamed Salah who’s scored in six consecutive UCL matches (G8), with half of those goals coming in the 75th minute and onwards.
⚡ Hot stat: Both teams have found the net in 16 of Real Madrid’s last 20 home UCL matches.
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