MX23RW : Tuesday, July 27 05:47:00| >> :600:1781765:1781765:
Nov 5, 2020 at 5.55pm UK at Stadion HNK Rijeka
RijekaHNK Rijeka
1-2
NapoliNapoli
Muric (13')
Smolcic (30'), Braut (44')
FT(HT: 1-1)
Demme (43'), Braut (62' og.)
Politano (22'), Koulibaly (45+2')

Preview: HNK Rijeka vs. Napoli - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday's Europa League clash between Rijeka and Napoli, including prediction, team news and possible lineups.

Croatian cup winners HNK Rijeka host Serie A high-flyers Napoli in Europa League Group F on Thursday, anchored to the bottom of a challenging section after their 4-1 thumping by surprise group leaders AZ.

The Neapolitan side are much in need of maximum points from their latest continental assignment themselves, as they battle with Spain's Real Sociedad and the Alkmaar club for a place in the knockout stages.


Match preview

Napoli's Matteo Politano celebrates scoring against Real Sociedad in the Europa League in October 2020© Reuters

Napoli's opening 0-1 home defeat by the Dutch side was effectively cancelled out by a 1-0 away win of their own in the Basque country - Matteo Politano's deflected long-range strike supplied the Serie A side with three welcome points at the Anoeta.

The Partenopei's win in Sociedad was just their third in 11 European away fixtures - though it was their fourth on the bounce in Europe's second-tier competition - but offers them the opportunity to effectively seal progress in back-to-back games with modest Rijeka.

Napoli's Europa League record is certainly formidable - they have competed in the knockout phase on seven previous occasions and have never failed to qualify, progressing as group winners on the two most recent occasions. Indeed they won all six matches in 2015-16, setting the current record for the most goals scored in a Europa League group, of 22.

However, a disheartening 2-0 defeat to a Sassuolo side decimated by injury and illness on Sunday has left Gattuso regretting his side's inability to keep pace with runaway Serie A leaders AC Milan. Though Napoli dominated large swathes of the contest, their failure to convert chances came back to bite them in the end.

Rijeka also suffered a league loss at the weekend, making it three consecutive defeats in all competitions for the side which currently sit fifth in the Croatian top flight.

In Europe last week, they were two goals down within 20 minutes in Holland, with only a late Sandro Kulenovic consolation strike ever so slightly taking the sting out of an utterly comprehensive defeat.

HNK Rijeka's Sandro Kulenovic celebrates scoring against AZ Alkmaar in October 2020© Reuters

In many ways, Simon Rozman's side are just glad to be involved at this stage, having snatched a surprise 1-0 victory at Copenhagen in the playoffs to make it into the group stage for the first time in three years. The Croatian club have participated in three previous Europa League group stage campaigns - all between 2013 and 2017 - but have yet to make further progress.

Perhaps the highlight of their involvement has been a group game win against AC Milan in 2017 - their only victory ever against Italian opposition. Thursday's opponents Napoli, meanwhile, are facing Croatian opposition in a European encounter for the very first time.

Two weeks ago, Rijeka were forced in to a postponement of their league game with Gorica, who were overwhelmed by 13 cases of COVID-19 among their players.

Though no cases have been officially communicated by Rijeka since, several players have reportedly experienced symptoms and temperature checks are being regularly conducted, causing coach Rozman to voice concerns that members of the youth squad may even need to be called up to face their illustrious Italian visitors.

If called upon, it will be a case of meeting with familiar faces for Rijeka's Italian defender Armando Anastasio - on a season-long loan to the club from Monza.

The left-back was born in Naples and learned his trade in the Napoli youth structure, so will be all too familiar with the pace, power and ingenuity of the visitors' play, as his new club take on perhaps their toughest test yet.

HNK Rijeka Europa League form: LL
HNK Rijeka form (all competitions): WWWLLL

Napoli Europa League form: LW
Napoli form (all competitions): LWLWWL


Team News

Napoli head coach Gennaro Gattuso pictured on October 17, 2020© Reuters

Napoli boss Gattuso will implement a considerable turnover of playing resources amid a relentless schedule. Nikola Maksimovic could be paired with Kalidou Koulibaly in central defence, as Kostas Manolas drops out, while German midfielder Diego Demme is tipped to start in place of Fabian Ruiz.

Lorenzo Insigne is in contention to return up front, having completed a training session with his teammates on Monday following a recent thigh strain. However, it is likely that the captain will start on the bench, as Stanislav Lobotka and Hirving Lozano are in line to feature in support of ex-SPAL striker Andrea Petagna.

In light of the many possible COVID-19 cases in the squad, Rijeka coach Rozman will need to improvise, though is expected to field a defensive 5-4-1 set-up.

Domagoj Pavicic and Franko Andrijasevic - on loan from Belgian club Gent - would be expected to play wide, with young forward Sandro Kulenovic, scorer of their goal in Alkmaar, as the lone frontman.

However, the possible use of the club's Under-19 team is reportedly now being considered in order to fulfil the minimum UEFA requirement of 12 squad members.

HNK Rijeka possible starting lineup:
Nevistic; Tomecak, Galovic, Velkovski, Escoval, Stefulj; Menalo, Pavicic, Andrijasevic, Loncar; Kulenovic

Napoli possible starting lineup:
Ospina; Hysaj, Maksimovic, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Demme, Zielinski; Politano, Lobotka, Lozano; Petagna


SM words green background

We say: HNK Rijeka 0-3 Napoli

Whichever Rijeka XI takes the field on Thursday, they will be powerless to stop Serie A's Napoli walking away with all three points.

A chasm in class divides the two clubs and Gattuso's side are doubly keen to put aside their weekend woes and stay alive in a three-way tussle with Real Sociedad and AZ for a place in the knockout rounds.


Top betting tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting an away win in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Away Win:data

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Napoli players celebrate winning the Coppa Italia on June 17, 2020
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TRIATHLON
· Team GB trio Vicky Holland, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Jess Learmonth all have realistic medal hopes in the women's event (10.30pm-1am)

RUGBY SEVENS
· After an impressive opening day, Great Britain play their final group game against a Fiji side level with them at the top of the pool, but also yet to hit their brilliant best (1.30am)

TAEKWONDO
· After disappointment for friend and housemate Jade Jones, Bianca Walkden will go for gold in the women's +67kg category (2am-2.30pm)
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