Ahead of their Round of 16 fixture against Napoli, Real Madrid could be forgiven for believing they have what it takes to defend their Champions League crown.
A comfortable 3-1 win at Osasuna made sure that Madrid went to into their Champions League tie with Napoli a point clear at the top of La Liga with two games in hand. Goals from Ronaldo, Isco and a late strike from Lucas Vazquez ensured all three points for the visitors.
Their opponents on Wednesday, Napoli, secured a comfortable win of their own at home against Genoa to extend their unbeaten run, which stretches back all the way to the end of October. The Azzurri will go into the game against the defending European champions full of confidence.
However, there is something about this Real Madrid side under Zinedine Zidane that makes them indefatigable in their pursuit of victory. Their record-breaking unbeaten run across all competitions only came to an end at the hands of Sevilla in a remarkable game earlier this year. They’ve bounced straight back from that defeat and gone about their business as usual.
The Galacticos might have a couple of injuries to worry about, though, as Cristiano Ronaldo reportedly did not train with the squad on Monday and Gareth Bale has been ruled out for at least another month. There are no such worries for the Azzurri, whose star players Dries Mertens and Marek Hamsik have been in cracking form of late – both smashing hat-tricks past Bologna in a 7-1 drubbing 10 days ago.
Historically Napoli have travelled very poorly to Spain, winning just once in their previous five visits. They faced Real Madrid in the Round of 32 in the 1987-88 European Cup and lost 2-0. They then destroyed Valencia 5-1 in the 1992-93 UEFA Cup, before more recently losing twice to Villarreal in the revamped Europa League in 2011 and 2016, and who can forget the loss to Athletic Bilbao in 2014?
Since 2010 Madrid have not exited the competition any sooner than the semi-finals. They thus start as the firm favourites to advance from this tie at 1/3 on most football betting sites. In fact, Real are among the front-runners to win the title once again as well at 5/1, while the Partenopei whose only European success came in the UEFA Cup back in 1989 with Diego Maradona are 66/1 to emulate that feat.
This year more than any other has it looked as if the Champions League may finally be defended for the first time in its history. Madrid have a deep enough squad, and in this tie they will have Alvaro Morata, who knows their opponents particularly well. Were Napoli to pull off a shock win, here it would definitely go down in history, but the chances as per the bookmakers are fairly slim.