Napoli vs Milan: Preview and Prediction
The second leg of the first Quarter-final encounter of the 2022-23 UEFA Champions League is on the cards as the European fans are bracing themselves up to welcome the first semifinalist.
After trailing behind with a goal in the previous leg, Napoli is getting ready to face their arch-rivals on a do-or-die continental night. The action-packed contest between the Italian table-toppers and AC Milan will be hosted by the Parthenopeans at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona of Naples this Wednesday.
Gli Azzurri is the heavy favorite to be crowned the eventual champions of the Italian top-flight league Serie-A after having a hefty 14-point lead to the second-placed Lazio side.
The Naples-based club is now aiming to replicate its domestic prowess on the continental level and earn success with their golden batch to the fullest. After outclassing Liverpool to top Group A, the Sky Blues then proceeded to demolish the German outfit Eintracht Frankfurt in the ‘Round of 16’ clash with an aggregate score of 5-0.
Meanwhile, the defending Italian league champions are on the verge of failure in their title-defense campaign but somehow managed to be among the Top 4 in the Scudetto race. It is also certain that the Rossoneri will be losing their domestic league glory to the Parthenopeans hence, UCL remains their only pathway to make the 2022-23 season a glorious one.
Milan paved its way to the quarter-final round by defeating the London giants Tottenham Hotspur who advanced to the knockout stages after topping Group D.
The Parthenopeans were left stunned at their fortress Stadio Diego Armando Maradona when in their most recent league appearance. When the relegation-battling Hellas Verona held them for a goalless draw at their own turf right before an important European fixture. It was the second occasion in their last three games when Napoli dropped points as they suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Milan in the first week of April.
On the other hand, the Red and Blacks will be turning up for this encounter with high spirits after defeating the same opposition twice within the timespan of a month. However, the Rossoneri side has also failed to claim all three points for consecutive times most recently. Milan clashed with the eighth-placed Bologna in the previous matchday where an early opening goal (1′) from Nicola Sansone held the visitors to a 1-1 draw at Renato Dall’Ara Stadium.
Napoli has dethroned the years-long dominance of the Milan Reds over them and has bossed the head-to-head record of recent times. The Sky Blues are leading the head-to-head record with 12 victories over the Italian counterparts from the last 40 face-offs across all competitions while the Red and Blacks currently stand on 8 wins and 10 encounters resulting in draws.
These two Italian heavyweights squashed in the domestic league a week before their scheduled first leg of the quarter-final where the Rossoneri thrashed the league-toppers. The Portuguese attacking sensation Rafael Leao bagged a brace (17′ & 59′) while Brahim Diaz (25′) and the super-sub Alexis Saelemaekers (67′) also made goal-scoring contributions in a thumping 4-0 triumph.
They once again shared the same battlefield later on but this time the stage was Europe’s biggest club competition and the Devils continued their triumphant run. A 40th-minute strike from Ismael Bennacer remained the only goal of the San Siro leg as the visitors were also down to 10 men in the 74th minute when Napoli midfielder André-Frank Zambo Anguissa received the red-card suspension.
Stefano Pioli made a whopping ten changes to his starting eleven for the most recent Series-A aiming to preserve the main lineup for the big clash. The entire first-choice pool of players will be returning to line up against the arch-rivals while the French goalkeeper Mike Maignan is likely to be the only one to keep his place.
The Milan gaffer is expected to field an unchanged lineup to sustain further the winning momentum while the only major absentee from his roster will be the veteran Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Meanwhile, the circumstances are completely different for the Parthenopeans as they may have to make multiple changes from the first leg lineup to turn the tables around. The South Korean central defender Kim Min-Jae who operates as the rock of Napoli’s defense joins André-Frank Zambo Anguissa among the players who will be suspended for the forthcoming game.
However, Napoli’s current season top-scorer Victor Osimhen is set to return to the action and will be forming a deadly trio with Hirving Lozano and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia to rip off the Milan defense.
Predicted Starting XIs
Napoli (4-3-3): Alex Meret; Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Amir Rrahmani, Juan Jesus, Mario Rui; Tanguy Ndombele, Stanislav Lobotka, Piotr Zielinski; Hirving Lozano, Victor Osimhen, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia
Milan (4-2-3-1): Mike Maignan; Davide Calabria, Simon Kjaer, Fikayo Tomori, Theo Hernandez; Rade Krunic, Sandro Tonali; Brahim Diaz, Ismael Bennacer, Rafael Leao; Oliver Giroud
Despite having a better 2022-23 Serie A campaign, Napoli is the least favorite to emerge victorious from this contest especially after convincingly losing the recent two encounters with the same opponent.
However, one thing is evident, we will get to see a Serie-A side barging into the penultimate round of Europe’s biggest stage for the first time since the 2017-18 prowess of Roma. Moreover, there’s also another high possibility to see an all-Italian clash in the second semi-final clash as Inter is currently in a leading position in the fourth quarter-final.