Swansea v Napoli
Thursday 20th February. 8:05PM . ITV 1
As Europa League action returns this Thursday, two clubs will fly the British flag as Tottenham travel to Ukraine and Swansea host Italian club Napoli.
Whilst Spurs were last at this stage just twelve months ago, this is Swansea’s first European adventure since 1991/92 and south Wales is buzzing ahead of Thursday’s tie.
With it also being Gary Monk’s first European game in charge of the Swans, it’s set to be a gripping affair.
Benitez Looking To Retain Europa League Crown
Unlike the inexperienced Swansea manager, Napoli’s Rafa Benitez has a wealth of European pedigree.
The former Chelsea manager guided the Blues to Europa League success and could have a great chance of doing the same with new side Napoli. Gli Azzurri dropped out of the Champions League after finishing third in their group, just like Chelsea, and are now one of the favourites to claim Europe’s second-tier prize.
Having also lifted the trophy with Valencia, during its UEFA Cup guise, Benitez is looking to become the first manager in history to guide three different clubs to success in the competition. He also famously led Liverpool to the Champions League title in 2005.
Conversely this is Gary Monk’s fourth game in management. And what a challenge it is.
As a player, Monk has represented the Welsh side in all four English divisions. He was part of Swansea’s crowning achievement by coming on as a second-half sub in last year’s League Cup final and now, in a coaching capacity, is set to lead them in another of the club’s biggest ever matches.
Swansea have done fantastically well to get here and the 3-0 win in Valencia will be remembered as one of the club’s greatest ever nights. Unfortunately, with the prospect of facing Higuain, Hamsik and Callejon it seems likely that their European adventure will be coming to an abrupt end after next week’s return leg.
Then again, their incredibly journey over the last few seasons has been nothing short of magical at times – perhaps another odds defying triumph is on the cards.
Napoli Aiming For Cup Double
The Italians have already reached the Coppa Italia final after their impressive 5-3 aggregate win over Roma in the semi-final set up their meeting with Fiorentina on May 3rd.
In addition to their cup success, Benitez’s men are third in Serie A and look odds on to qualify for the Champions League again in 2014/15. Meanwhile, Swansea’s inconsistency – which ultimately cost Michael Laudrup his job – means that they are almost certain to miss out on repeating their European adventure next year.
Since Monk took the reigns, Swansea have seen an improved run of form but the Italians have been defeated just twice in their last 16 outings and will be confident of extending that run in Wales. Napoli are certainly amongst the favourites to win this tournament and should be too much for the experimental Swans.
Swansea V Napoli Betting
Whilst the Italians are clear favourites to progress over two legs, the bookies feel that home advantage gives Swansea a fighting chance on Thursday night. Bet 365 make Napoli the slight favourites at 11/8, whilst Swansea are priced 11/5 and the draw is 12/5.
Gary Monk embodies everything good about the Welsh cub but even the most optimistic Swans fan would concede that this is one hell of an uphill battle. Swansea are at their best when they have hold of possession but against the Napoli they may struggle to retain the ball. The Italians boast a number of world-class stars and, particularly with the absence of Michu, it may be tough for the Welsh side to score.
Even if the Swans do score, there is a good chance they will be limited to just one goal. Napoli do concede more goals than Serie A’s other top sides but the gulf of talent, along with Benitez’s extensive European experience, it seems improbable that Monks side will score more than once. Even Arsenal only scored twice when welcoming Benitez’s side to the Emirates.
Meanwhile, Napoli will be confident of advancing next week even if they head back to Naples trailing by a goal. Should they score first then Benitez may instruct his side to take less risks rather than pushing for an unassailable lead.