Frankfurt progressed from the group stages at the first time of asking – the 2022/23 season represents their first Champions League campaign. Die Adler finished second in their group – behind Spurs but ahead of Sporting and Marseille. However, their first knockout game would pose an entirely different threat…
SSC Napoli sit top of the Serie A standings – but not only are they at the top, they’re fifteen points clear at the top. That’s incredibly impressive, and in such a competitive league it goes to show the quality they possess. As I talked about in my preview to this fixture, Napoli have bagged an astonishing 56 goals in the league so far this season – thanks to a dependable front three of Kvaratskhelia, Osimhen and Lozano.
Frankfurt made just one change from their game against Werder Bremen last weekend, with Aurelio Buta replacing Ansgar Knauff at right-back. Napoli made two changes, with Zielinski and Lozano preferred over over Elmas and Politano.
FRA: Trapp (GK, C); Ndicka, Jakic, Tuta; Max, Sow, Kamada, Aurelio Buta; Gotze, Lindstrom; Kolo Muani
NAP: Meret (GK); Olivera, Kim Min-Jae, Rrahmani, Di Lorenzo (C); Zielinski, Lobotka, Zambo Anguissa; Kvaratskhelia, Osimhen, Lozano
Even half an hour before kickoff, Frankfurt’s famous Nordwestkurve were in full voice to spur on the team throughout their warmups – including a rousing rendition of the club’s anthem im Herzen von Europa.
Napoli started well, with a long ball over the top finding Khvicha Kvaratskhelia – but the Frankfurt defence did well to deal with the danger posed by the Georgian winger. I Partinopei soon found themselves with a free-kick in the middle of the park, which was played out wide to Olivera on the left-flank, but for the time being, the visitors seemed happy to be patient and wait for the chances to arise rather than forcing an attack.
Hirving Lozano was able to break free on the counterattack after a sloppy pass from the Frankfurt midfield gave Napoli chance to surge forwards – but the Mexican couldn’t find Osimhen and the ball was sent behind for a corner.
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s progress down the left flank was impeded by Tuta and Buta in the first half, meaning Victor Osimhen’s service in the box was severely reduced and the majority of Napoli’s attacks had to be focused down the right wing, through Hirving Lozano.
Lozano beat the offside trap down the right flank, unleashing a shot that rifled off the inside of the right post before rebounding into the path of Osimhen – but Aurelio Buta downed the Nigerian and the visitors were awarded a penalty.
Kvaratskelhia stepped up to convert from the spot, sending his effort to the keeper’s right – but Kevin Trapp anticipated this and was able to make a great save to keep the teams level.
Victor Osimhen opened the scoring just four minutes later, poking Lozano’s cross into the back of the net and past a helpless Kevin Trapp. The visitors replicated this almost exactly no more than a minute later, but Osimhen was offside at the second time of asking and his effort was ruled out. Napoli wouldn’t mind all too much though, as they headed into the lead with a one-goal advantage.
The Italian side emerged from the second half and continued to push for a second goal, pinning Frankfurt into their own half. Napoli had chance to bag a second goal after sloppy passing in the midfield gave Kvaratskhelia chance to break through on goal, but Trapp did well to make himself as big as possible and deny the Georgian.
Randal Kolo Muani saw red in the 58th minute after he clipped Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa while surging into the box, and despite both players crashing to the floor, it was the Frenchman that was dismissed. Having seen a few angles of the challenge, it still seemed to be a very harsh decision from the referee.
Napoli sought to capitalise on their newfound advantage, and doubled their lead seven minutes after Kolo Muani’s dismissal through club captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo. The right-back arrived in the box, firing home into the bottom corner after a sensational back heel assist from Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
Frankfurt hadn’t given up hope of clawing a goal back though, and they produced a great chance in the final ten minutes – with a blistering counterattack resulting in Ansgar Knauff firing a cross in from the right flank, finding Daichi Kamada in the box though his shot was directed straight into the arms of Meret.
The final whistle rang out shortly after that, and it’s Napoli that will be heading into the second leg with the advantage. They’ll hope for another strong showing at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, where they remain undefeated in Serie A so far this season. Frankfurt certainly have their work cut out if they’re to stand any chance of rescuing a result from this tie, but being eliminated against Europe’s most in-form team certainly isn’t something to be embarrassed about.