Napoli are surging. They've gone the last 13 matches undefeated, they recently ravaged Bologna 7-1, and former sub Dries Mertens is playing arguably better than any other striker in Serie A. Surely, if there's a good time to play Champions League juggernauts Real Madrid, then that time is now?
The question of whether the Partenopei are ready to take on Real Madrid is surprisingly layered. A comparison of the two teams' performances in their domestic leagues turns up unexpected numbers, as the Italian club actually have better stats overall.
Maurizio Sarri's team is already one of the best in Europe at holding possession. They complete more passes and attack more efficiently than Zinedine Zidane's men. The two teams are also roughly equal in terms of chances created and goals scored, whilst defence is just about the only category where the Spaniards have a significant advantage.
And yet comparing the same exact data fields in the two clubs' Champions League games paints a very different picture. When considering the elite tournament alone, Napoli are much the worse side in every category. In terms of the back-line, the difference is appalling: Squawka puts their defensive scores as 183 to 33, and there's no need to tell you who leads.
These numbers are hard evidence of something everyone already suspected: in terms of raw technical quality, Napoli have more than enough to match and even outdo their Champions League rivals over two games. But they lack the mental fortitude to perform at their best on the international stage, an arena which the Merengues approach like a warm jacuzzi. For all intents and purposes, the Spaniards will be playing both games at home.
Unfortunately, this is an issue that has no easy fix. Or if it does, then it's in the hands of a motivational guru like Antonio Conte, and not in those of a tactical Jean-Paul Sartre like Sarri. For this reason alone, we must assume that the Italians start at a disadvantage, as reflected in the Real Madrid and Napoli Champions League betting.
In terms of tactics, Napoli have recently found a more cohesive shape compared to recent, uneven performances. Much like their rivals Inter and Roma, they are reaping the ongoing benefits of a newly settled tactical system, with Mertens a revelation in his new role as a False Nine.
And yet there is at least one issue that Sarri should be concerned about. Looking across all competition, Napoli scored 79% of their goals from open play against 65% by Real Madrid.
While this testifies to the Vesuviani's energetic attack, it also means they are less versatile. The Blancos, by contrast, are more balanced, being better at finding the net not just from open play, but on set-pieces and counter-attacks too.
All talk of individual quality set aside, Real Madrid emerge as more of an all-round team, whilst Napoli are something of a one-trick pony. This may seem counter-intuitive, considering the variety of goals the latter club have scored in recent games and the fact that they can attack equally well from all sides.
And yet four in five of these goals came from the same possession-based set-up, meaning that Napoli depend very, very heavily on that playing style. If Zidane can shut that down, or at least mitigate it early enough, then he has practically won the match. His opponents don't have an equivalent counter.
Sarri certainly knows that. He recently affirmed that he absolutely wouldn't change Napoli's tactical system, which testifies to its success, but also to the fact that he has no real alternatives.
If Napoli were truly ready to play Real Madrid (if anyone can ever be 'ready' for an opponent of this calibre), then they'd have the means to adopt the most appropriate plan: play a cautious, defensive game at the Bernabeu, with a view towards taking greater risks later at the San Paolo.
But the Azzurri can't do that. Their evolution over the season has been so random and stumbling – the product of absurdly-timed injuries, and of rapidly changing circumstances – that they ended up with a highly productive attacking system that has neither back-line nor back-up. Coming out swinging is the only thing they can do.
Those who state the truth must often be blunt – and the truth is that such an approach has very low odds of working out for the Neapolitans. With the chasm in quality between the two teams' respective defences, and the spreading of the result over two games, Sarri will have to pull off a tactical masterpiece to make it to the next round.
Alternatively, Zidane needs to go for a tactical Coupe de Boule. The silver lining? Win or lose, this mad effort should make for some rapid-fire, turbulent, gorgeous football.