By 90Min
September 17, 2018

Napoli return for their third consecutive UEFA Champions League group stage, having finished second place in Serie A last term, with a tricky away tie to Serbian Superliga champions Red Star Belgrade in Group C. 

After missing out on the domestic title last season by just five points, Napoli automatically qualified for the group stage and go into the match carrying the momentum of three wins in their last four, including victories over Lazio, AC Milan and Fiorentina in the league. 

David Geieregger/GettyImages

Red Star, meanwhile, enter the Champions League group stages for the first time since 1992 following a dramatic comeback from 2-0 down against Red Bull Salzburg, drawing the match 2-2 and going through on away goals. 

Despite the Serbs having won the European Cup back in 1991, Napoli are clear favourites to take all three points in their opening group game, with Gli Azzurri boss Carlo Ancelotti - three-times Champions League winning coach - making his managerial debut in Europe for the Italian side. 


When Napoli travel to the Rajko Mitić Stadium on Tuesday night it will be the first time the two sides have ever met. Their qualification over Salzburg marked the end of a 26-year absence from Europe's top competition, and the Serbian champions will be eager to return with a win against a strong Napoli side, who have never won the trophy. 


Key Battle

El Fardou Ben Nabouhane vs. Dries Mertens


The departure this summer of Red Star's top scorer for last season left a gaping hole in attack, however Comoros international El Fardou Ben Nabouhane has seamlessly stepped into the role as lead striker, bagging nine goals so far this term. Six of those have come in the Champions League qualifying stages and he'll be feeling confident after scoring both goals in the comeback against Salzburg. 

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However, the Serbs' striker may not see much of the ball if Napoli forward Dries Mertens continues his form from the last two seasons. 

He's netted 28 and 22 goals respectively, making him the star player in a strong attack that includes Lorenzo Insigne, Marek Hamšík and José Callejón. The Belgian winger also had a strong World Cup with the national side, helping lead them to the semi-finals of the competition.


Team News

Former Chelsea winger Marko Marin marked his debut for Red Star with a goal and an assist last weekend in a comfortable 6-0 win over Radnik Surdulica, and will hope to start the tie on Tuesday night. A fit squad, that has won its last 25 competitive matches, means Vladan Milojević will have plenty of options to choose from. 

Srdjan Stevanovic/GettyImages

Napoli are without Romanian centre back Vlad Chiricheș who ruptured his cruciate ligament last weekend while on international duty, meaning Nikola Maksimovic is likely to start in his place. Amin Younes and Alex Meret are also out with long term injuries, as Ancelotti looks set to keep the same side that beat Fiorentina in the league. 


Prediction


Red Star have been on excellent form domestically, and are currently enjoying a 25 game undefeated streak. However, having been drawn in a tough group that includes last season's competition runners-up Liverpool and Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint Germain, Napoli will surely be looking to get an opening win under their belt against the group's weakest team. 

A clean sheet in their win over Fiorentina will be a boost for Ancelotti's team, who know they mustn't underestimate the Serbian side. Nevertheless, from the moment the two clubs were drawn in the same group this one has had victory for the Italians written all over it. 

Prediction: Red Star Belgrade 1-3 SSC Napoli

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