Red Star Belgrade vs Napoli – Tuesday, September 18, 20:00BST/21:00 CEST – Stadion Rajko Mitić, Belgrade, Serbia
It has been a historic Champions League campaign for Crvena zvezda (also known as Red Star) already. Red Star Belgrade eliminated Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg, which meant that the 1991 European Cup winners qualified for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.
A giant during the 1980s and early 1990s Crvena zvezda have, however, never faced Napoli. The champions of Serbia are the first team from Serbia that Napoli have faced in almost 40 years. That sort of history will, however, play only a small role for Crvena Zvezda when they finally kick-start their first ever Champions League campaign.
Instead, the Red Star Belgrade want to become the first team from Serbia to collect three points in a Champions League match. Their rivals Partizan qualified twice for the Champions League group stage in the past but on both occasions were left without a single victory during their Champions League campaign.
Whether Crvena zvezda will fare any better remains to be seen. Crvena zvezda came through four qualifying rounds to reach the group stage – the first time they had successfully negotiated the UEFA Champions League preliminaries at the seventh attempt.
Crvena zvezda kicked off this season in the first qualifying round, where they got the better of Latvia’s Spartaks Jūrmala 2-0 on aggregate. Lithuania’s Sūduva were beaten 5-0 over two legs in the second qualifying round before extra time secured a 2-1 away win at Slovakia’s Spartak Trnava in the third qualifying round second leg to complete a 3-2 aggregate victory. Then came a dramatic come from behind draw against Red Bull Salzburg that finally saw Red Star’s Champions League dream fulfilled but will they now write history?
Their best chance will come on Tuesday against Italian side Napoli as both Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain, the other two teams in the group seem simply a step too far for the Serbian champions. But even the Italians could prove to tough a nut to crack.
The Gli Azzurri may have won only one of their five matches against Serbian opposition (D2 L2). That particular victory was a 3-1 home win against OFK Beograd in the 1962/63 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final second leg, although they went on to lose the replay by the same score. Their last fixtures came in the 1981/82 UEFA Cup first round, when they lost on away goals to Radnicki Niš (2-2 home, 0-0 away).
Football, however, has had a dramatic turn of events since Napoli ventured last to Serbia. Yugoslavia is no more and Serbian football, although recovering, is only a shadow of what mighty Yugoslavia once produced on the pitch. Hence, Napoli head coach Carlo Ancelotti will not be too concerned about history as his side will likely collect all three points in Belgrade on Tuesday night.
Red Star Belgrade vs Napoli – Players to look out for:
Richmond Boakye #99 – Crvena zvezda
Champions League money meant that Red Star Belgrade could bring back Ghanaian star Richmond Boakye from China. A powerful forward with a fantastic goalscoring instinct Boakye has not taken long to get re-acclimatised in Serbia. In his first game back with the club, the 24-year-old scored two goals in Red Star Belgrade’s 6-0 victory over Radnik.
Piotr Zielinski #20 – SSC Napoli
Polish midfielder Piotr Zielinski has played as special role in Carlo Ancelotti’s system this system. The 59-year-old head coach has implemented a 4-2-2-2 formation with the Gli Azzurri that at times looks similar to the way RB Leipzig play in Germany. A high press with two attacking-midfielders that also have to operate as wingers means that Zielinski has been given a bit of a new role. The Polish midfielder now operates as one of two attacking midfielders right behind two strikers. Interchanging positions with the forwards allows Zielinski to exploit space when going forward and as a result, the 24-year-old has been the club’s top scorer, together with Lorenzo Insignie, by scoring two goals in four games.
Red Star Belgrade vs Napoli – Match Stats
- Crvena zvezda have lost only two of their last 17 European games (W7 D8).
- The Belgrade club are six European home matches unbeaten (W3 D3) since a 1-0 reverse against Arsenal in last season’s UEFA Europa League group stage. That is their only defeat in their last 13 European home matches (W7 D5). They have conceded just five goals in those 13 fixtures – and never more than one in any game.
- Crvena zvezda have won only two of their 19 fixtures against Italian clubs, most recently a 3-1 home win against Roma in the 2005/06 UEFA Cup group stage – their sole home success. Their record home and away since then is D1 L3.
- This is only the third season Serbia has had a team in the group stage, after Partizan’s participation in 2003/04 and 2010/11.
- Serie A runners-up in 2017/18, Napoli are in the group stage for the fifth time – all in the last eight seasons. They reached the round of 16 in 2011/12 and 2016/17.
- Napoli have lost their last four away matches in the UEFA Champions League proper.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Red Star Belgrade vs Napoli – 0-3
Red Star Belgrade vs Napoli – Lineups
Borjan – Rodić, Degenek, Savić, Stojković – Causić, Krstičić – Marin, Ebecilio, Jonathan Cafú – Boakye
Karnezi – Rui, Koulibaly, Maksimović, Hysaj – Allan, Hamsik – Zielinski, Callejón – Mertens, Insigne
Head Coach: Carlo Ancelotti
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.