Champions League Quarterfinal • SSC Napoli vs. AC Milan: Football

There have been so many distractions about this match. Both teams have been talking about referees, with the referee from the first leg being suspended by UEFA. So UEFA are sending one of their best for this one, who refereed the World Cup Final. The Napoli fans have sunk to all new levels, both in the stadium and online. Pioli has become obsessed with this matchup, and has gambled our league results away and behaved in ways we have not really seen before. Amidst all of this psychological and emotional drama, I am hoping that this match will be able to focus back on the football.

Let's move past all of the drama and just enjoy an intense, amazing game of football

Spalletti is still talking about how Napoli was wronged by the referee last week, and how it will impact this match on Tuesday. He was so vocal about Leão not being cautioned for his violence against a flagpole, but he said nothing about Rrahmani not getting a straight red for assaulting Saelemaekers. He is so upset about his players being suspended for this match due to poor refereeing, and how it will impact this match. But he never said anything about how Milan missed Leão due to poor refereeing in our first meeting this season and how it impacted that match. Obviously, managers are biased toward their own teams, but often those who are the most outspoken look the most foolish or hypocritical.

I miss the days when managers would just praise the performances of players, even opposition players

Following the controversial 1-0 loss to Milan in the first leg last week, Napoli played to a 0-0 draw with Verona on Saturday. Spalletti changed five starters in that match from his midweek lineup: Meret; Di Lorenzo, Kim Min-Jae, Juan Jesus, Olivera; Anguissa, Demme, Elmas' Politano, Raspadori, and Lozano. But the big news was that Osimhen returned from injury and played a solid 20 minutes. He is expected to start on Tuesday. For this leg, Spalletti will be missing Kim Min-Jae and Anguissa to suspension, as well as Simeone to injury. Also in doubt is Gaetano for fitness issues. 

While certainly, those three starters will be missed for Napoli, they have shown all season to have great depth from their bench. Having their talisman and Serie A's leading goalscorer, Osimhen, will also be helpful both mentally and physically. They should also have their fans back, which they did not have on our last trip to the Maradona. Spalletti threatened to quit his job if the fans did not support their team in such an amazing season. After De Laurentiis had to seek police protection this week from his own fans, the sensational Napoli owner made peace with the Napoli Ultra groups this week.

Milan will have all new challenges when Napoli's famous duo are reunited

Speaking of death threats, some Napoli fans also wished death upon Theo Hernández and his baby son on the left back's Instagram account this week. I am not sure, but it may have originated from a post from Diego Maradona Jr. I think he was trying to troll Theo, I am not sure. He posted a pic of Theo screaming at Lozano after having schooled him, and said something like "I didn't remember him like that at the World Cup Final." Thing is, neither Lozano nor Napoli, nor Diego Jr. were in the World Cup final. And while his Argentina may have been, Theo looks freaking badass in that pic, unlike anything else I saw on Diego's Instagram page. Also, both Theo and Milan got the better of both Lozano and Napoli in that match, so it's not really much of a troll. But I think that may have called Napoli fans' attention to Theo's Instagram page, where they took it to a whole new level. The irony is that UEFA ran a campaign just last week about online abuse of players. 

Theo beat Lozano, Milan beat Napoli, so Napoli fans wished death on a baby?

This after throwing lighters, cups of soda and urine, and spitting on Milan fans during our match last week at the San Siro. And attacking Eintracht Frankfurt fans in Naples during the Champions League Round of 16. And brutally brawling in the motorway with Roma fans earlier this season, earning a two month travel ban during their Scudetto-winning season. As exquisite as Napoli's football has been on the pitch this year, their fans have been the antithesis off the pitch. The team and the rest of the Napoli fan base deserve so much better. The world deserves better.

Pioli is making his own contribution to the douchebaggery. After changing ten players in his starting lineup and only managing a 1-1 draw against an in-form Bologna on Saturday, all he could talk about was how the referee did not award two penalties. What would he have said if the referee had awarded the penalties and Milan players had missed them? As I discussed in the match review, Pioli has become so obsessed with this team/fixture/Champions League/whatever that the pressure has gotten to him and he has lost the plot in Serie A. He has also lost some respect, because between his poor man management both midweek and on Saturday and his whining about the referee, his imperfections have been on full display.

The one indisputable starter will definitely have his hands full on Tuesday

Speaking of lineups, I expect he will make another ten changes for this match and go back to a very similar, if not the same exact lineup he has used the past two matches vs. Napoli: Maignan; Calabria, Kjaer, Tomori, Theo Hernández; Tonali, Krunić; Brahim Díaz, Bennacer, Leão, and Giroud.  Kjaer did not even travel to Bologna specifically to rest, so should be available for this match. There is some doubt about Giroud, who has an Achilles tendon issue, which would be a huge miss for Milan, but there is optimism for his ability to face Napoli. Pioli does not have a direct replacement for him, but might start Rebić or Origi, possibly shuffling his attack slightly to accomodate.

Calabria has done an incredible job neutralizing Kvaratskhelia in the past two matches, but now the Milan defense will also be faced with defending Osimhen, something they have not had to do. Additionally, they have not had to defend the two of them together, who are like magic when they play in tandem. Nor have they played in a Maradona stadium with proper support from the home fans. 

This matchup has been quite even, but who will actually have the edge on Tuesday?

Despite the scoreline from the first leg, despite what Napoli fans tell you, despite all of the drama and controversy ahead of this match, nothing is determined in this tie. We go to Naples with a spot in the semifinals completely up for grabs. I mean, it's only worth an additional €12.5  million in prize money to reach the semifinals, no big deal. Anything could happen in 90 minutes. UEFA is sending a proper referee, so hopefully, he is not the star of the night again. I cannot say I have the same confidence in Napoli fans, but I can only hope that their desire to win is greater than their desire to harm. Above all else, I hope that this match, no matter how it ends, is all about the football.

This post inspired by the music of NIN''s "Down In It"

Our next match is 
Champions League Quarterfinals
SSC Napoli vs. AC Milan
Tuesday, April 18, 2023 • 21:00 CET (3pm EDT)
This match can be streamed LIVE on Paramount+ in the U.S. 

Champions League Quarterfinal • SSC Napoli vs. AC Milan: Football Champions League Quarterfinal • SSC Napoli vs. AC Milan: Football Reviewed by Elaine on 1:00 AM Rating: 5
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