Napoli meet Red Bull Salzburg for the first time in Europa League round of 16


When Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg arrive at the Stadio San Paolo it will be the first time they have ever faced off against Napoli.

Historically facing Serie A sides hasn’t been Salzburg’s strong point considering they have only won four of their 14 European encounters with Italian clubs. Though last season the Austrian Bundesliga side did beat Lazio to qualify for the Europa-League semi-Finals.

Eventually they did lose at the semi-final stage as French side Marseille won 3-2 after extra time, however, it wasn’t the Ligue 1 side that won the tournament as Spanish giants Atletico Madrid beat the French side 3-0 at the Stade des Lumières in the final.

This is only Napoli’s third appearance in the UEFA Europa League round of 16, progressing to the quarter-finals back in the 2014/2015 when the Italian side eventually went out to runners-up Dnipro in the semi-finals.

Despite being a coach of legendary status in the Champions League, this match will be only the third time that Reggiolo born Carlo Ancelotti has managed in the Europa League with his 3-1 away win in Zürich his first ever in the competition.

The Gli Azzurri were unbeaten in their last six until they lost to 2-1 to Juventus, beating Parma 4-0 while winning twice in the last round of this tournament. The six unbeaten games did include goalless draws to Torino and Fiorentina.

As for Salzburg, they have won four of their last six, although during that time the Austrian club have lost to both Belgian side Club Brugge in the Europa League group stage while Die Roten Bullen also fell short against 7th placed Rapid Wien 2-0.

After the 2-1 loss to the Bianconeri, Napoli sit 16 points over last season’s Serie A champions as they continue to come up short to the Old Lady.

Red Bull Salzburg are the current holders of the Austrian Bundesliga and are 11 points clear with 16 matches left of the season. They’ve won the title for the last five years as they’ve dominated Austrian football last missing out in the 2012-2013 season.

The Partenopei started this season in the Champions League in Group C with French champions Paris Saint-Germain, last season’s finalists Liverpool and Serbian side Red Star Belgrade. The Italian side finished as the best third-placed team in the group stage, finishing with nine points.

Their only defeat during the competition proved costly though as they lost 1-0 to Liverpool in the final game meaning that the Serie A side were overtaken by the Premier League side. In the last round of the Europa League, the Gli Azzurri won 5-1 over two legs to beat FC Zürich.

Back in Group B of this tournament, Salzburg topped the table winning every game as they saw off Scottish champions Celtic, sister club RB Leipzig and Danish side Rosenborg. In the round of 32, they looked all but set to be knocked out to Club Brugge who won 2-1 in the first leg.

However, goals from Xaver Schlager, Munas Dabbur and a double from Patson Daka ensured that the hosts completed an impressive turn-around winning 4-0 at the Stadion Salzburg which meant qualification for this tie.

Napoli boss Ancelotti called for respect for Salzburg:

“Red Bull Salzburg are a great team with great international experience”

“It’s only a few months ago that they played in the semi-finals of the Europa League.”

“They won six games out of six in their group, so we’ll need two great performances!”

German Salzburg manager Marco Rose called Napoli vulnerable:

“It is an honour to face off against a team like Napoli that has such huge potential, both as a squad and individually.”

“However, they are also vulnerable and we want to use that to our advantage. There is no room for fear, as we are here to play football. Our side is very ambitious, we have many young players and will use great courage with lessons from the more experienced figures.”

“We’ll see what happens here and then we can think about the second leg. The important thing is to put in a strong performance tomorrow so the tie is still wide open when we play on home turf.”

Home side Napoli only have experienced defender Raul Albiol out with injury, the former Real Madrid defender has had surgery but this game is too early for the 33-year to feature.

It’s expected that Dries Mertens will be back starting for the Gli Azzurri after he came off the bench in their 2-1 loss to title rivals Juventus. The Belgian replaced Kévin Malcuit at half-time with his side 2-0 down at the break.

As for the Austrian side, Salzburg have a whole host of players out as Jasper Van der Werff (meniscus), Youba Diarra (cruciate ligament) and Marin Pongracic (thigh) are all currently sidelined while Fredrik Gulbrandsen and Zlatko Junuzovic are doubtful as they try to recover from their thigh injuries.

Die Rotten Bullen‘s midfielder Diadie Samassekou is expected to be named as the destroyer in Marco Rose’s side while Isreali striker Dabbur is expected to lead the line for last year’s semi-finalists.

Polish forward Arkadiusz Milik is the Naples club’s top scorer with 15 goals in 31 matches for his side, though in Europe this season the attacker hasn’t netted at all playing six games between the Champions League and Europa League.

This is a very different story with Red Bull Salzburg’s top scorer in all competitions as Dabbur leads in scoring numbers for the Austrian Bundesliga side netting 24 in 34 games.

The soon to be Sevilla striker is also the top scorer in the Europa League with 7, followed by Eintracht Frankfurt’s Luka Jovic and soon to be team-mate Wissam Ben Yedder.


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