Dnipro v Napoli
Thursday May 14, 20:05
Live on ITV 4
The Partenopei should be in control of this tie after dominating the first leg, but their profligacy came back to haunt them, as Dnipro grabbed a late equaliser to give themselves the edge in the tie. Napoli were on top throughout – they hogged possession, they had 19 goal attempts to Dnipro’s three, and star striker Gonzalo Higuain lost his personal duel with visiting keeper Denis Boyko.
Napoli certainly don’t lack motivation to turn this tie in their favour. Their 2-2 draw at Parma dented their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League through Serie A, coach Rafa Benitez is trying to win this tournament for the third time, and Napoli haven’t reached a European final since 1989.
Benitez can take heart from his side’s away form in the Europa League, especially in the knockout phase. The southern Italians have lost just one of their six away games in the competition, and in the knockout phase they have won 4-0 at Trabzonspor and 4-1 at Wolfsburg. They have also kept four clean sheets on the road in Europe this term.
Napoli are the tournament’s top scorers with 26 goals, and they have all of their key attacking weapons fit. Higuain, Marek Hamsik and Jose Callejon could all feature as the visitors look to break down a determined Dnipro defence, and composure in front of goal must improve from last week.
Every time it looks as though Ukrainian underdogs Dnipro have reached the end of the Europa League line, they manage to somehow build themselves a new stretch of track. They defended resolutely last week, with the defence led by excellent Brazilian Douglas. When the defence was breached, imposing keeper Denis Boyko used his big frame to frustrate the hosts.
The political unrest in Ukraine means Dnipro will play this game in the capital Kiev, rather than in their own stadium, but their form in the Olympic Stadium has been excellent. Dnipro have won their last four Europa League games in Kiev, keeping clean sheets in all four victories. Less encouragingly, they did lose 1-0 at home to both Inter Milan and Qarabag in the group stage.
Coach Myron Markevych knows a goalless draw would be enough to qualify, and he has talked a lot about team spirit and togetherness in the build-up to this encounter. I suspect Dnipro will shut up shop and dare Napoli to try and play through them, but that could be a dangerous game. Containment worked against Ajax and Club Brugge, but will it be successful two weeks in a row against Napoli’s big guns?
Dnipro could be without Yevhen Shakhov, who scored a stunning winner against Club Brugge in the previous round. Roman Zozulya is still sidelined by a knee problem.
As I said before last week’s first leg, Napoli boss Benitez is a master at getting through this type of situation. He knows how to edge close ties, and he has the firepower at his disposal to unlock that fiercely competitive Dnipro rearguard.
Dnipro don’t have much of a threat going forward, and they have scored more than once in just three of their 13 Europa League matches this term. If Napoli get the opener, that will pose the Ukrainians a big problem, and visitors’ speed on the counter could be critical. Napoli dominated the first leg, and I think they’ll do so again. I’m leaning towards the visitors at [2.02].
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
This is quite a tricky one to call. Six of Dnipro’s seven “home games” in the Europa League have featured fewer than three goals, and that outcome is favourite at [1.81]. However, if Napoli take the lead and Dnipro have to come out, there could be mayhem towards the end. If you must have a dart in this market, unders is the sensible play, but I’m not totally convinced.
If Napoli do win it, then one of their attacking superstars is likely to have played a role. Higuain had plenty of chances in the first leg, and is [2.0] to score at any time. The dangerous Hamsik is [2.7], while Manolo Gabbiadini – who has been excellent since arriving from Sampdoria – is [2.5].
Back Napoli to win at [2.02]
2014/15 Europa League P/L (1 pt per bet)
Points Staked: 89
Points Returned: 88.8
P/L: -0.2 points