The Round of 16 in the UEFA Europa League unfolds over the next two Thursdays, so before the action kicks off around Europe on Thursday afternoon, we thought we would preview the eight matchups of the round.
Up next is the match between the Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg, who has the pleasure of hosting Italian club Napoli. The game kicks off from Red Bull Arena in Salzburg, Austria on 14 March 2019 at 5:55pm GMT (1:55pm EST).
What Happened in Leg 1
Napoli took advantage of being the home club for leg one. Scoring twice in the first 20 minutes, they looked every bit the favorite everyone thought coming into the match. Arek Milik scored first, breaking the offside trap and faking out the Austrian keeper to score the ball in the empty net. Less than 10 minutes later, Fabián netted the second goal for Napoli on a volleyed shot, giving them a 2-0 lead at halftime. The scoring was completed when Jérôme Onguéné was sloppy with the ball near his own net and netted an own goal in the 58th minute. 3-0 Napoli.
Red Bull Sallzburg actually had more attempts on goal in the game, outshooting Napoli 21 to 16. However, stellar defense from Napoli led to seven blocked shots, reducing the number of balls that made it to goal. Otherwise, the clubs were mostly equal, splitting possession 50/50, and being about equal in total passes.
What the Experts are Saying
The dominant victory has increased Napoli’s odds of advancing to near certainty, at least per the simulations at FiveThirtyEight. Their computers have them advancing to the quarterfinals in 97% of simulations, as well as making them co-favorites to win the whole tournament, joining Chelsea with a 1-in-5 chance of winning it all in Baku (imagine if they are drawn against each other next round…).
For the leg two match, Napoli is also favored to win in 40% of simulations, and to draw in another 27%. So Red Bull Salzburg does have a chance in this match, and in front of the home crowd, they have to like their chances of picking up a moral victory, even if it doesn’t result in advancing to the quarterfinals. There’s always league play.
What We’re Thinking
Like our first preview for this leg, we don’t like the chances of the overwhelming underdog of advancing. Sure, they could ultimately win the match in front of the home crowd, but chances of winning with a better than a four goal margin might be a bridge too far. We have seen some upsets elsewhere in Europe recently, but Napoli simply looked too dominant last week for us to see this match up ending any different for them than expected.
Until next time…