Napoli Scouting Report
Napoli have been one of the hottest teams of this season all across Europe, overcoming a slow start to the season to go on a barnstorming run that saw them reach the top of Serie A and stay there until this past weekend. They also had a record performance in the Europa League group stage, winning all six matches and setting goalscoring records along the way, while standing as one of the best defensive units in Europe. They're one of the most talented teams left in the Europa League, and are considered a favorite in the competition for a reason.
Napoli run in a 4-3-3, with a fluid midfield trio supporting a dynamic front line. Marek Hamsik is the advanced playmaker of the midfield, Jorginho is the deep hub of possession, and Allan charges all over the pitch putting out fires and being wherever he's needed. The wonder of that trio, though, is that they can and will swap roles when needed, creating a tactical nightmare for their opponents. The front line is a constant danger as well, with Gonzalo Higuain's constant threat backed up by the playmaking and goalscoring danger of Lorenzo Insigne -- as well as his backup Dries Mertens -- and the hard work and pure speed of Jose Callejon on the other side.
The obvious name is Gonzalo Higuain, he of the 24 goals in 25 league matches this season and two in three Europa League games. But it goes well beyond that. Marek Hamsik is back to his playmaking best. Lorenzo Insigne has finally started to truly tap into his potential. Kalidou Koulibaly has been a dominant force in defense. Half a dozen other players have stepped up their game tremendously. Napoli have a couple of standout stars, yes, but their success comes because they're a complete and balanced team, not just a collection of players.
Napoli look to strike hard and fast in attack, using their combination of pace, trickery, and jaw-dropping skill up front to knock a defense off balance and create openings. While Higuain is the obvious focus of an attack, a defense can't allow themselves to focus on him too much, or else any Callejon or Mertens or Insigne or Hamsik or Allan will punish them dearly. That's a lot of "or," and that's a bit part of why Napoli have been so successful this season.
Without the ball, Napoli are wildly effective without any of the typical defensive strategies people are used to seeing in the modern era of football. They don't employ a high press, they don't bully teams off the ball, they don't bunker and absorb pressure. Instead, the harry, they harass, they deny passing lanes, they generally try to keep you from playing their game. They annoy you and frustrate you until you make a mistake, and when you do -- that's when that hard and fast attack eager to exploit your mistakes springs into action.
Expected Lineup and Injuries
Napoli are expected to rotate to some degree, resting a few tired legs and giving opportunities to a couple of under-utilized players. Three players are outright unavailable -- neither of Napoli's January signings, Alberto Grassi and Vasco Regini, are in their Europa League squad, and Jorginho was left in Naples while he deals with a viral infection.
Napoli are also expected to rest Gonzalo Higuain and potentially Marek Hamsik as well. So how will Napoli line up? Probably something like this
Hysaj Chiriches Koulibaly Strinic
Allan Valdifiori Lopez
Callejon Gabbiadini Mertens
How do Napoli match up with Villarreal?
It looks like it's going to be a very close match. While Napoli and Villarreal have different shapes and specific tactics, their general approaches and style are very similar. While Napoli have been widely recognized for their excellence this season, Villarreal are a sorely underrated side and are much closer to the partenopei than many would be willing to give them credit for.
Keys for Napoli success
First and foremost, Napoli can't be reactionary. They have to go out and play their game and not let Villarreal dictate play at all. That's easier said than done on the road in Europe, especially in a raucous atmosphere like El Madrigal, but Napoli have shown in the past they they can pull it off.
The other thing they must do is be adaptable. With all the expected rotation, Sarri must be willing to toss his initial gameplan out of the window and bring his big guns off the bench and into the match earlier than he wants to. If Napoli are struggling and he leaves those subs too late, his team may just run out of time to get the result they want.
Will Napoli beat Villarreal? Maybe, maybe not. An away goal or two is probably the team's main focus for this match, as well getting at least a point out of the game. A win would be nice, but as long as they get a point and a goal, they'll be in an excellent position to win when the tie comes back to the San Paolo. But Villarreal are a tough opponent, and this will be one of their most difficult Europa League matches in years.