On a day when Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, and Paris Saint-Germain are all in action, there’s one other match that could easily be the most must-watch game of the day, and one that you wouldn’t expect. The most entertaining match doesn’t look like it will be any of those teams — there is a very real chance the most fun will be had in Italy, when Napoli host Portuguese powerhouse Benfica.
While the match may lack the sheer star power of some of the other games on the day, what it does bring is a game between two very well-balanced teams in excellent form vying for superiority in one of the tightest groups in this year’s Champions League. It’s got all the ingredients to be one heck of a match, one that, if it lives up to its potential, could ultimately stand out as one of the best matches of the group stage.
Benfica were, last season, one of the most fun teams in the Champions League. They made it to the quarterfinals a year ago, and did so in style, with a high-energy style that demanded attention and excited those watching. They lost a pair of impact players in Renato Sanches and Nico Gaitán, but they have yet to lose in competitive action this season despite those losses. They still play with the same intensity they did before, and it’s served them well this season.
Napoli took a major loss of their own in the summer, with the single-season record scorer in Serie A jumping ship when Gonzalo Higuaín left for rival Juventus. They haven’t missed a beat, though, standing as the only team in Italy’s top division to go undefeated so far this season and easily dispatching Dynamo Kyiv in their first Champions League match this season. They’ve been blossoming early in their second season under Maurizio Sarri, using a revitalized depth chart to put together a versatile and lethal side that’s been entertaining fans everywhere, and any stereotype of Italian football you might have in your head does not apply to Napoli.
It’s about more than just the quality of the two teams, though. These two teams make wonderful foils for one another — Benfica’s aggressive press against Napoli’s rapid-fire transition game is a matchup that could swing in so many different ways that it’s impossible to predict, other than it won’t be boring. One could easily get a big advantage over the other for a time and then lose it like that, making every big moment all the more important because of it.
The atmosphere will certainly help the occasion. It’s been three years since Napoli made it to the Champions League, but their fans have been aching for that return, and will be ready to out-do even the impressive displays they made three years ago. The Stadio San Paolo is old and not in the greatest of shape, but it will be loud and packed to the gills with exuberant and passionate fans ready to give every ounce of themselves to support Napoli.
There may be bigger teams in action on Wednesday, but that doesn’t automatically make their matches the ones you need to watch. Sometimes you need to find something new, and two passionate, talented, and hungry teams like Napoli and Benfica going toe to toe can be far more exciting than a juggernaut rolling over someone far inferior. Especially when the teams are so evenly matched and capable like these two are, it can create an exciting occasion,
So take a risk. Watch something outside of the power teams. You just might find yourself enjoying the sheer chaos and unpredictability.