BT Sport’s James Horncastle and Raphael Honigstein talk Italians in Europe
James Horncastle and Raphael Honigstein spoke to Forza Italian Football ahead of the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 and Europa League round of 32.
ForzaItalianFootball.com sat down with BT Sport’s Goal Show experts James Horncastle and Raphael Honigstein to discuss Italian side’s chances during their upcoming fixtures in European competitions.
Both Juventus and Roma will face off against worthy adversaries in Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the Champions League, whilst Fiorentina, Lazio and Napoli will all fly the Italian flag in the Europa League.
“I think Napoli can go further than last year in the Europa League,” Horncastle told ForzaItalianFootball.com.
“What has really impressed me about Napoli is that in Serie A they have been top for the last six weeks running. No one has been at the top that long.
“They haven’t let it go even though Juventus have put them under pressure. That shows real resilience, it’s a great testament to their character and I think they should be favourites for the Europa League. I would put them up there with Borussia Dortmund.
“They are the only team that had a perfect run through the group stages. They are just a really well-balanced team, their defence has improved a lot from last season and they have already recorded more clean sheets in the league than last year with Rafael Benitez.
“A lot of people have said Gonzalo Higuain is to Napoli what Gabriel Batistuta was to Fiorentina. The difference is, they have also got a great player in Manolo Gabbiadini as well as others who compliment him so well. They’ve got more depth than people presumed at the start of the season.”
On the topic of Fiorentina, Horncastle pointed out that the Viola’s upcoming opponents Tottenham Hotspur are a much changed side and will pose a different challenge to that which they faced at the same stage, last year.
“I think Fiorentina were a great cup team under Vincenzo Montella,” he added. “Last season they went to the semi-finals of the Europa League and I remember Spurs’ coach Mauricio Pochettino saying that they could quite easily register to play in La Liga and no one would notice that they’re Italian.
“I think that has changed under Paulo Sousa. They seem to have improved, at least in the league, and so have Spurs. I’m really looking forward to that game.
“As for Lazio, they look a different team without Stefan de Vrij and Lucas Biglia, I don’t see them going far.”
Turning towards the Champions League fixtures, Horncastle added that Roma shouldn’t be written off so easily going into their game against Real Madrid: “I think this might be a trap game for Madrid,” he continued.
“You should underestimate Roma at your peril.
“It might sound surprising given some of the performances they’ve had in the Champions League, there’s the 7-1 loss to Bayern and then the 6-1 against Barcelona, but I think they have shown in some of the bigger games, especially at the start of the season, that they can put in a tactically coherent performance and get a result.
“For example, a lot of people have forgotten about the 1-1 draw against Barca at the Stadio Olimpico, I think they played really well that game. Even when they beat Fiorentina 2-1 they showed that they can attack very well and defend too.
“I also don’t believe that [Madrid coach, Zinedine] Zidane is better than Luciano Spalletti, at least not for now. Spalletti has introduced some interesting concepts at Roma and I just wonder whether Madrid have come up against that this season and how they will cope.”
Meanwhile, Juventus will be on the hunt for revenge against Bayern Munich after being knocked out of the competition by the Germans in 2013, and Rafa Honigstein believes a lot has changed since their last encounter.
“When the draw was made, Bayern were confident,” Honigstein said. “As time has progressed, Juve have come back strongly, whilst Bayern have perhaps not played at their very best.
“The momentum has changed and it looks a much closer and more awkward tie than it did at first. With their injuries at the back, Bayern know this is going to be very hard and they need to be careful. You can just sense that the club are a little bit anxious.
“Juventus might have an edge when it comes to the little things, especially on corners against Bayern’s weakened defence.”
You can watch these fixtures over on BT Sport in addition to all the biggest Serie A clashes.
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