How Napoli can fight back to eliminate Madrid

Napoli are 3-1 down going into their second leg at home to Real Madrid, but UEFA.com's Paolo Menicucci has a plan to get them into the last eight. Burn after reading.

Napoli keeper Pepe Reina has been in fine form
Napoli keeper Pepe Reina has been in fine form ©AFP/Getty Images

Trailing Real Madrid 3-1 from their round of 16 first leg, Napoli have their work cut out. They have the firepower, certainly, but can they keep out a Madrid side who have scored in 46 successive fixtures? It's a mountainous task, no doubt, but UEFA.com explains why it's not quite mission impossible.

Reina in form
Former Napoli striker Careca has suggested in the build-up that Napoli need to defend like "11 Neapolitan Mastiffs for the entire 90 minutes". Behind those efforts will be goalkeeper Pepe Reina and, judging by his incredible stoppage-time save in Saturday's 2-1 Serie A victory at Roma, Napoli are in safe hands.

“We can beat Madrid 2-0 at home," said Reina. "The away goal is important and we are going to put pressure on them from the start. Madrid were favourites before the tie and still are now, but they will be getting a warm welcome at Stadio San Paolo."

Watch highlights: Madrid 3-1 Napoli
Watch highlights: Madrid 3-1 Napoli

The San Paolo effect
Indeed, the atmosphere at Napoli's home may even give the Partenopei the edge; just wait until you hear the volume at which "The Champions" is shouted at the end of the official pre-game anthem. "The whole city is waiting for this game," skipper Marek Hamšík told the media on Monday. "The fans will give us great support. I'm sure they will be our 12th man."

Early goal
Actually, imagine the atmosphere should Maurizio Sarri's side pull one back early on. "Madrid are used to playing in these kind of environments, so I don't think it will affect them," said the coach. "I just hope it will affect us. I believe the only thing that can scare a man is to see an incredible determination in the eyes of his opponents – that's what I hope our fans will transmit to the players."

Marko Rog in action against Roma on Saturday
Marko Rog in action against Roma on Saturday©AFP/Getty Images

Rog surprise
Napoli were overrun in midfield in the Spanish capital, Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modrić dominating for Madrid. Sarri has since unearthed an invaluable weapon, though. Saturday may only have been Marko Rog's sixth Serie A appearance – and his first start – but his performance convinced all observers he has a role to play.

An August 2016 arrival from Dinamo Zagreb, Rog almost added a third against the Giallorossi, four days after being named man of the match in the Coppa Italia meeting with Juventus. The 21-year-old Croatian international covered an incredible 13.1km against Roma, looking hugely influential at both ends of the pitch. Fresh legs, energy and hunger – precisely what the doctor ordered after that tricky night in Madrid.

Dries Mertens has been in prolific form
Dries Mertens has been in prolific form©AFP/Getty Images

Mertens on fire
Napoi have scored 62 league goals this season, seven more than their previous best after 27 fixtures. Dries Mertens is responsible for 18 of them, and when he limped off in Rome – having netted twice – many feared the worst.

So when Mertens appeared for training on Monday, the gathered journalists could be heard murmuring "Eccolo! Eccolo!" (here he is). The hope for Napoli is that his movement between the lines and running behind the defence can unsettle Pepe, Sergio Ramos and company. Those fans who still believe in a memorable 'rimonta' (comeback) will certainly hope so.

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