Real test awaits Napoli

Real test awaits Napoli

Real Madrid have mastered the art of winning without hitting top gear this season but that strategy will be severely tested in Wednesday’s Champions League last 16 showdown against a Napoli side that have developed their own invincible aura.

La Liga leaders Real were riding high as they set a Spanish record 40-match unbeaten streak in all competitions. That run was finally snapped by Sevilla last month and now Napoli have taken up the mantle of the hardest team to beat in Europe, stringing together 18 games without defeat.

Real’s scrappy 3-1 win at basement club Osasuna on Saturday displayed visible weaknesses in their rearguard as Zinedine Zidane’s use of a back three bore mixed results, with goalkeeper Keylor Navas called upon numerous times to thwart the La Liga strugglers.

The return of a fit-again Dani Carvajal should see the coach revert to his favoured 4-3-3 line-up as he has an almost full strength side at his disposal except for Gareth Bale, who has recently returned to training following an ankle injury.

Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik, who returned to the squad for Friday's 2-0 win over strugglers Genoa but stayed on the bench after four months out with a knee injury, could make his comeback against Real. Belgium forward Dries Mertens has taken on the team's attacking responsibilities in Milik's absence, plundering 13 goals in his last 10 games and inspiring a run of seven wins and one draw in 2017, taking Napoli to third in Serie A.

A hope to lift the gloom
In Germnay, Bayern Munich and Arsenal meet with a hope that European success will help lift mid-season gloom on their domestic fronts.

Bayern are on track for a record-extending fifth consecutive title with a seven-point lead thanks to their 2-0 win over Ingolstadt on Saturday.

But that result does not tell the whole story, with the German champions looking lacklustre for most of the match before snatching two goals in the final minutes.
The Bavarians have been more a model of efficiency under coach Carlo Ancelotti than the high-scoring, high-speed train of past seasons under predecessor Pep Guardiola.

With fans grumbling about the lack of spark, Ancelotti said Saturday's win gave them the boost needed to take on Arsenal. Ancelotti could be without winger Franck Ribery, with the Frenchman working towards a comeback from a thigh muscle injury sustained two weeks ago.

Bayern have posted a record 15 straight home wins in the competition, including three this season. Arsene Wenger's Arsenal have lost in the last 16 for six years in a row, including to Bayern in 2013 and 2014.

The London side ended a two-game losing run with a 2-0 league win over Hull on Saturday but that did little to lift the mood of their fans with Wenger non-committal about his future.

Chilean Alexis Sanchez scored both goals against Hull but his own future is equally unclear and Wenger knows that a good result in Munich will go a long way in pushing these issues into the background.
Reuters

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
GET IT
Comments (+)