La Liga club Athletic Club will square off against Napoli (20:45 CET) on Wednesday night in the second leg of their Champions League playoff with the two sides deadlocked at 1-1 after last week’s battle at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples.
Their previous encounter, the first between the two sides in European competition, saw the Basque side take the away goal lead thanks to Iker Muniain’s strike before Gonzalo Higuain equalized for the Azzurri.
Due to Athletic’s away goal advantage, the Italian’s will need a victory or a draw with a scoreline greater than 1-1 in order to seal qualification to the group stage of the competition.
Athletic are coming off of varied success during their summer friendlies, handily defeating 2013-2014 Bundesliga sixth place finishers Borussia Monchengladbach in early August.
However after that victory the Basque side failed to record any further victories and are coming off a 1-0 away defeat to Malaga over the weekend in the opening match of the La Liga season.
Napoli are also coming off varying degrees of success from their summer, recording an impressive victory over Barcelona on August 6 before falling to Paris Saint-Germain three days later.
The Partenopei will be hoping that Athletic’s defeat will have a physical and mental toll on the Spanish club as the Italians have yet to begin their Serie A campaign. Their first match is scheduled for Sunday when they will travel to the Stadio Luigi Ferraris to take on Genoa.
With neither club having completed any major signings or suffering any major injuries since their previous meeting, Ernesto Valverde and Rafa Benitez will have full squads to choose from ahead of the encounter.
Benitez is expected to make three changes with Faouzi Ghoulam, Dries Mertens and Gokhan Inler expected to come in for Miguel Britos, Lorenzo Insigne and Jorginho respectively.
As usual the man to watch will be Higuain as the Argentine has scored twice in Napoli’s past two games, including a strike during the Azzurri’s high profile encounter against Paris Saint-Germain.
For Athletic the only doubt appears to be Mikel Balenziaga as the defender did not take part in training on Tuesday.
If he is unable to play then expect Oscar De Marcos to move to the left with Andani Iraola on the right. Another option is Aymeric Laporte could move out to the left with Mikel San Jose manning the centre of defence with Carlos Gurpegui.
Iker Muniain will be eager to continue on his success having scored against Napoli in the previous leg. However Napoli will also need to keep an eye on striker Aritz Aduriz, as he recorded a hat trick against Gladbach less than three weeks ago.
Athletic Club’s expected starting XI:
Iralzoz; Balenziaga, Jose, Laporte, Marcos; Iturraspe, Rico; Gomez, Muniain, Susaeta; Aduriz
Napoli’s expected starting XI:
Cabral; Ghoulam, Albiol, Koulibaly, Maggio; Jorginho, Gargano; Mertens, Hamsik, Callejon; Higuain