“We need to forget about the first leg,” Napoli Coach Maurizio Sarri warned in his Press conference ahead of tonight’s game with Nice.
“We can’t run the risk of approaching this game in a way which doesn’t suit us. We need to go out onto the pitch thinking of a one-off game, otherwise we run the risk of forgetting to play our football. I’d ask to think of a one-off game, to bring the result home.”
With his side holding a 2-0 lead from the first leg it may at first appear that the Coach is being overly cautious, but his words are more of a call to arms than anything. Nice’s approach will necessarily be different, but Napoli’s can’t be.
While the first leg was about trying to remain in the tie, as Coach Lucien Favre admitted, Les Aiglons have to go for it tonight. Despite dominating the match and ending it playing against nine-men, Napoli weren’t quite able to put the tie to bed at the San Paolo.
That match saw the visitors without their star man Mario Balotelli, as well as new signing Wesley Sneijder, but it’s expected that both will play tonight.
That leaves the Neapolitans with a very different threat to face, as the Dutchman will look to find space between the lines, while Balotelli likes to drift into wide areas.
That’s likely to put more pressure on both defensive midfielder Allan - or Amadou Diawara - and the Partenopei full-backs.
Sarri is unlikely to deviate from his 4-3-3 formation, but the individual instructions assigned to each player is likely to be different with the Ligue 1 outfit presenting far more of an attacking threat.
This is not to say that the visitors will sit back though, that doesn’t play to their strengths and was surely the reason for the Coach’s insistence that this game be treated as a one-off. If Napoli have a weakness it’s at the back, and inviting pressure could be a disastrous ploy.
The Allianz Riviera will be a cauldron, and conceding early would really let both the Nice players and fans believe there’s a chance of turning the tie around.
On the other hand, an early goal for the Partenopei would leave the hosts needing four, and that really would be the tie over. As such the Serie A side must be careful, attentive, but never cautious. Dries Mertens is likely to be fit, and even without the Belgian they have the firepower to ensure safe passage to the group stage.
A turnaround in the tie is unlikely, but it’s not impossible and Italian sides have a dreadful record at this phase of the Champions League. Keeping the squad together and starting pre-season early should help Napoli in that regard, but the fact they didn’t kill the tie in Naples is a cause for concern.
If they can stick their principles - adventurous, not reckless; attacking, not gung-ho; attractive, not naive - then Sarri’s men have enough to progress. If they attempt, even subconsciously, to sit on their first leg cushion they could be in for a bumpy ride in Nice.