Napoli v PSG
Napoli deserved to win at the Parc des Princes a fortnight ago and the Partenopei look a good thing to avoid defeat at their atmospheric Stadio San Paolo home in the reverse encounter on Tuesday night.
Carlo Ancelotti’s charges out-played PSG and were on course to upset the odds in the French capital, twice taking the lead only for a Mario Rui own-goal and a stunning stoppage-time goal from Angel Di Maria denying the Serie A side.
Back on home territory, Napoli should relish playing their underdog role yet again. Liverpool were unable to attempt a single strike from inside the Partenopei’s penalty area when beaten here 1-0 on matchday two and Ancelotti’s outfit will be confident they can bloody PSG’s nose in Naples this midweek.
Bar an upgrade in the dugout, I just can’t see how, or where, Les Parisians are a stronger suit than 12 months ago.
Financial fair play regulations have meant strengthening the squad is nigh-on impossible and with Thiago Motta, Giovanni Lo Celso and Javier Pastore leaving in the summer, their midfield lacks bodies.
Too often this term, their best centre-half Marquinhos has been pushed into a holding role in midfield due to their lack of options. There’s also the conundrum of Di Maria – one of PSG’s best performers this season – not being completely suited to any role in Tuchel’s preferred 3-4-3 system.
What’s more, there are a number of issues bubbling below the surface.
Marco Verratti was charged with drink driving last week, Adrien Rabiot wants out, Kylian Mbappe was dropped against Marseille for missing a team meeting and Thiago Silva was far from pleased to have the captaincy taken off him.
As well as stepping around eggshells whenever Neymar is in the building, the capital club are aware that Edison Cavani has been angling for a move back to Napoli; the Uruguayan has also spoken publically of late to suggest his teammates need to improve their work rate if they’re to challenge.
Cavani is an injury doubt here but I’d expect him to feature. PSG missed his influence and positioning against Lille on Friday night with Mbappe uncomfortable playing in the leading central striker role. Whether he starts or not, I’m still happy to oppose the visitors.
Les Rouges et Blues have only triumphed once on the road in the Champions League away against any side of note – Chelsea in 2016 – and although their price has drifted since the weekend, there’s still mileage in pro-Napoli angles.
The hosts warmed up for Tuesday’s game in the best way possible, blowing Empoli away 5-1. Dries Mertens hit a hat-trick, Lorenzo Insigne excelled and even substitute Arkadiusz Milik joined in the scoring. That performance followed strong displays against Juventus and Roma domestically so don’t expect Napoli to shy away from the challenge.
Inter Milan v Barcelona
Inter Milan’s 5-0 destruction of Genoa on Saturday marked their seventh successive Serie A victory with Luciano Spalletti hailing the Nerazzurri’s performance as possibly their best of the campaign thus far. High praise considering a host of front-liners were rested ahead of Champions League duty.
Top goalscorer Mauro Icardi, Sime Vrsaljko, Matias Vecino and Radja Nainggolan were rested or recovering but their absence from the starting XI made no difference as Inter walked all over their opposition, just as they had done when trouncing Lazio 3-0 on their travels less than a week previous.
In front of a sold-out San Siro, I’m happy to back Serie A’s best defence and most in-form side putting on a competitive performance against Barcelona this midweek. So much so, I’ll be backing the Nerazzurri with a +0.5 Asian Handicap start knowing we’ll be paid out should the home side avoid defeat.
Inter disappointed at the Camp Nou two weeks ago but there’s plenty in their favour coming into this contest. For starters, the price. Spurs were 1.85 when with a half goal start welcoming a Lionel Messi-led Barcelona to Wembley despite missing Dele Ali, Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen.
However, Spaletti’s men are 1.86 in the same market despite boasting an almost fully fit squad, whilst Messi is almost certain to be missing from the Catalans’ starting XI. The mini magician was magical when leading Barca at Tottenham and his absence could be keenly felt by the Blaugrana who often underwhelm away in continental competition.
Beating Spurs was only Barcelona’s sixth success in 16 away Champions League ties since 2015/16 – the other victories came against BATE Borisov, Arsenal, Celtic, Monchengladbach and Sporting Lisbon – hardly the most glittering list of European heavyweights. On only five occasions in that 16-game sample have the La Liga giants scored more than a solitary strike, failing to even net on six occasions.
Ernesto Valverde’s outfit escaped major embarrassment on Saturday night when pinching a 3-2 win at struggling Rayo Vallecano. After 80 minutes, the table-toppers had fired in just three efforts from inside the penalty area and appeared completely lacking inspiration, invention and ideas.
Defensively too, Barcelona are in poor shape. Still missing key centre-half Samuel Umtiti, the guests have recorded two clean sheets in 12 whilst giving up 1.31 Expected Goals per-game. They’ll give Inter opportunities, that’s for sure.
And I guess the concluding factor is Barca’s current position in the pool. Valverde’s visitors don’t need to win this encounter – they’re already comfortably top of the group and a draw would be considered a positive return.
Look back to last season and the Catalans were happy to go to Sporting Lisbon, Juventus and Olympiakos and close the away games out – a repeat wouldn’t be a huge surprise here and therefore I’ll happily dismiss odds on the away win around the even-money mark.
- Napoli +0.5 Asian Handicap (if this goes under 1.66, take Napoli +0.25)
- Inter Milan +0.5 Asian Handicap
Mark joined Phil Kitromilides and Paolo Bandini this week to preview Matchday 4 of the Champions League. If you haven’t already subscribed, search for ‘Matchbook Betting Podcast’ on your preferred podcasting app.