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Preview: Napoli vs. Wolfsburg

Sports Mole looks ahead to Napoli's Europa League clash with Wolfsburg as the Italians look to see out their 4-1 first-leg win and reach the semi-finals.

Napoli host Wolfsburg at Stadio San Paolo on Thursday knowing that only a miracle could prevent them from reaching the semi-finals of the Europa League.

With a 4-1 first-leg cushion, Rafael Benitez's side will look to finish the job in Naples and ease into the last four without incident.


Napoli's Slovakian midfielder Marek Hamsik (R) celebrates after scoring his team's second goal with his team-mates during the UEFA Europa League first-leg quarter-final football match on April 16, 2015© Getty Images

Benitez is a two-time winner of this competition with Valencia in 2004 and Chelsea in 2013, and few would back against him winning it for a third time after the way in which his charges dismantled in-form Wolfsburg last Thursday.

It was a victory that consolidated his reputation as a cup specialist, having also won domestic cups in three different countries, but it remains to be seen if even another European title will see him stay with the Partenopei beyond this season.

Despite their heroics on the continent, Benitez's side have suffered from an erratic couple of months that has hindered their hopes of securing a top-three finish in Serie A - Champions League qualification.

Napoli sit five points off the pace in fourth, having endured a rotten March in which they drew two and lost two, with a 1-0 defeat to third-placed Roma at the beginning of April particularly damaging to their cause.

Yet things have looked a little brighter in recent weeks as Napoli beat second-placed Fiorentina and Cagliari with back-to-back league victories for the first time since February, but speculation continues to mount over Benitez's future in Italy, with his contract scheduled to expire at the end of the season.

It remains to be seen if either party wants an extension in place, but the players must continue to shelve the off-the-field matters surrounding their manager and focus on securing a semi-final spot when the Germans come to town.

Recent form: WWWWDW
Recent form (all competitions): DLLWWW


Wolfsburg's midfielder Daniel Caligiuri reacts after scoring during the German first division Bundesliga football match Hamburger SV vs VfL Wolfsburg in Hamburg, northern Germany, on April 11, 2015© Getty Images

Where it all went wrong for Wolfsburg last Thursday is anybody's guess.

Having beaten Sporting Lisbon - who dropped into the competition after bowing out of the Champions League - in the last 32, before annihilating Inter Milan 5-2 on aggregate in the last round, Dieter Hecking's side had as strong a claim to this season's Europa League as any.

Yet, they travel to Naples having effectively signed away their hopes of a first European title in the club's history with a limp performance at the Volkswagen Arena last week.

Even a 3-0 win on the night, against a side who have not conceded more than three goals in a game all season, would see the visitors eliminated from the competition.

In truth, their 4-1 thumping was made all the more surprising given the Germans' stunning Bundesliga form.

Prior to being humbled by Napoli, Hecking's charges had won six of their last eight league outings to sit second in the standings with a seven-point cushion.

It was not meant to be this way for Die Wolfe, yet the experience of it could stand them in good stead if and when they enter the Champions League next season.

Recent form: WWDWWL
Recent form (all competitions): DWWWLD

Team News

Michu in action for Napoli on October 5, 2014© AFP

By virtue of his side's 4-1 cushion, coupled with their pursuit of Champions League qualification in Serie A, Benitez may opt to bench a few of the players that helped secure the first-leg advantage.

The Spaniard is only missing two players in Michu and Walter Gargano - who was on the bench last week - as both players suffer from thigh injuries.

Meanwhile, Wolfsburg's Aaron Hunt, who missed last week's defeat, is expected to miss out again through a knee injury.

Bas Dost will spearhead the Germans' attack and, with 16 goals in 19 starts in all competitions this season, Hecking needs his star striker firing if they are to have any hopes of resurrecting their Europa League campaign.

Nicklas Bendtner, who netted that consolation at the Volkswagen Arena, could be recalled to the matchday squad after being dropped for their 1-1 draw with Schalke at the weekend for turning up late to training.

Napoli possible starting lineup:
Andujar, Maggio, Albiol, Britos, Ghoulam, David Lopez, Inler, Callejon, Gabbidiani, Insigne, Higuain

Wolfsburg possible starting lineup:
Benaglio, Vieirinha, Naldo, Knoche, Rodriguez, Gustavo, Guilavogui, Caligiuri, De Bruyne, Schürrle, Dost

Head To Head

Napoli boast a 100% win record against their German counterparts, with last week's victory being the first time that both sides had met on a competitive stage.

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We say: Napoli 2-1 Wolfsburg

Benitez's teams are historically hard to beat in cup competitions, given his record in them, and that should be reflected again on Thursday despite the temptation to take their foot off the gas. We reckon they will finish the job in a professional manner.

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Napoli's coach from Spain Rafael Benitez reacts during the Italian Serie A football match between AS Roma and Napoli on April 4, 2015
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Preview: Wolfsburg vs. Napoli

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