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Back Napoli to beat Leicester City in matchday one of the Europa League. Luciano Spalletti’s side have started the season brightly and could extend their winning run at the expense of the Foxes.
Leicester did not really want to be in the Europa League this season. Just like in 2019/20, they spent much of last term in the top four of the Premier League. Securing a place in the Champions League was their primary objective, but the Foxes fell away towards the end of the campaign. Leicester were third in the table from December 26 until May 18, but defeats by Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in their final two games saw Brendan Rodgers’ side finish fifth. For the second season running Leicester narrowly missed out on the Champions League.
They must already be regretting the late dip in form that cost them a place at Europe’s top table. Each member of last season’s top four – Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool – looks stronger right now than they did at the end of 2020/21. Leicester have also done some good work in the transfer market, bringing in Patson Daka, Boubakary Soumare, Jannik Vestergaard and Ryan Bertrand, but getting as close to the Champions League as they have done in the last two campaigns will be difficult.
Rodgers’ side were a little underwhelming in the Europa League last time out. After a dominant group phase, they did not score in two legs against Slavia Prague, who knocked them out in the round of 32 thanks to a 2-0 aggregate victory. Leicester will certainly hope to do better in the competition this time round, particularly if a top-four finish domestically begins to look out of reach in a few months’ time.
Leicester are yet to get going this season. They have won two and drawn two of their four league fixtures to date, but victories over Wolverhampton Wanderers and Norwich City had more than an element of good fortune to them. Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Manchester City was also more comprehensive than the scoreline suggests. Rodgers will be demanding more from his players, starting with Thursday’s Europa League opener.
Napoli, by contrast, have come flying out of the traps this term. They are one of three teams in Serie A to have won each of their first three matches, and they head into this game on the back of a brilliant 2-1 victory over Juventus at the weekend. Granted, Juve are experiencing various teething problems under Max Allegri right now, but Napoli took full advantage and ran out deserved 2-1 winners at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
Luciano Spalletti has already made an impression on his new side. Napoli, who like Leicester experienced top-four heartbreak last season, did not do too much business in the summer. But Spalletti has once again demonstrated his coaching credentials by having a positive effect on the team out on the training pitch.
Victor Osimhen, Hirving Lozano, Eljif Elmas and Fabian Ruiz are among those who have caught the eye so far. Napoli have looked dangerous going forward, scoring six goals in three games, and solid at the back – only AC Milan and Torino have better xG against records than the Partenopei.
There is no reason why Napoli cannot go far in the Europa League. Theirs is not an easy group alongside Leicester, Spartak Moscow, and Legia Warsaw, but they are joint-favorites (with the Foxes) with the bookmakers for good reason. After two years out of the game, Spalletti will be more determined than ever to get his hands on a piece of silverware.
Napoli have made a much better start to the season than Leicester, and are deemed to have an equally good chance of winning the Europa League as their upcoming opponents. It is perhaps a little surprising, then, that you can get odds better than +200 on an away win on Thursday night.
Home advantage plays a part, of course, and the Italian outfit might have to weather an early storm at the King Power. But Spalletti’s side will arrive in England full of confidence, and the recent news that David Ospina, Kalidou Koulibaly, Amir Rrahmani and Osmihen look set to be granted permission to travel amid uncertainty over quarantine regulations is a major boost.
Kelechi Iheanacho ended last season brilliantly but has been a peripheral figure at the start of 2021/22. There is a sense that Rodgers still does not know how to get him into the same team as Jamie Vardy without sacrificing any of the other players he deems essential. Napoli have no such worries in terms of tactics or personnel, and they showed against Juventus on Saturday that they can beat any opponent on their day. Follow the form book and back Napoli to beat Leicester on matchday one of the Europa League.
|Leicester City vs Napoli Information|
|Teams||Leicester City vs Napoli|
|Location||King Power Stadium, Leicester, England|
|Time||Thursday, 16 September 2021, 15.00 PM EDT|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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