Napoli aim to qualify for last 16 in record time

Mike Napoli #26 of the Cleveland Indians bats in the second inning against Aaron Sanchez #41 of the Toronto Blue Jays during game four of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on Oct 18, 2016.
Mike Napoli #26 of the Cleveland Indians bats in the second inning against Aaron Sanchez #41 of the Toronto Blue Jays during game four of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on Oct 18, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MILAN • Napoli could today become the first team in Champions League history to qualify from their group after only three games, providing welcome relief from their recent troubles.

A home win over Besiktas, plus a draw in the other Group B game between Dynamo Kiev and Benfica, would guarantee last season's Serie A runners-up a place in the last 16 for only the second time.

Napoli, unbeaten in their last 18 European matches, have six points from their first two games although their 4-2 home win over Benfica three weeks ago now seems a world away.

Maurizio Sarri's side have lost both Serie A games they have played since, dropping to fourth in the table and falling seven points behind leaders Juventus.

They have also lost striker Arkadiusz Milik to a long-term knee injury and do not have an obvious replacement. Manolo Gabbiadini was given the job against Roma on Saturday but the 25-year-old failed to make an impact and was jeered off when he was substituted after 57 minutes in the 3-1 defeat.

Another alternative would be to field Belgian international Dries Mertens as a so-called false No. 9, a role he performed when he replaced Gabbiadini on Saturday.

"Dries does these things well, it's a role he can play but of course we can't expect him to be a centre-forward in the traditional sense," Sarri said.

Besiktas have drawn their opening two games in the group and are unbeaten in all competitions this season, apart from losing on penalties to Galatasaray in the Turkish Super Cup.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Napoli aim to qualify for last 16 in record time'. Print Edition | Subscribe