Napoli are set to AC Milan at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in Naples for what it's expected to be one of the most awaited clashes of the season. You can catch the Champions League matchup only on Paramount+. The Rossoneri won 1-0 in the first leg of the quarterfinal matchup thanks to the goal scored by Ismael Bennacer but will have to play a heated second leg away in the same stadium where they won 4-0 two weeks ago. The winning team of this quarterfinal will face the winner of Inter vs. Benfica where Inter comes home with a two goal lead meaning we could be headed for the first all-Italian semifinal in twenty years after the Milan derby back in 2003.
Napoli will have striker Victor Osimhen back in the squad, but Luciano Spalletti's side will have to deal with two key absences, defender Kim-min Jae and midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa are both suspended and will miss the second leg on Tuesday. The question is, will Napoli be able to cope with these key absences and how can they do it?
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Kim Min-Jae's importance to Napoli's defense
Korean center back Kim Min-Jae arrived in the summer 2022 after Napoli had to replace club legend Kalidou Koulibaly who joined Chelsea in the same transfer window. The Azzurri considered him, and rightfully so, the perfect replacement for such an important player and immediately paid the €19 million release clause to Fenerbahce. Kim arrived and instantly became a starter for Spalletti. His impact was outstanding, he played 39 games in all competitions and always starting, except for a Coppa Italia defeat against Cremonese.
Kim, with his pace and strength, showed his potential and became one of the top three Serie A defenders this year. It's not a coincidence that Spalletti always started him and Napoli are the best Serie A defense this year with only twenty goals conceded in thirty matches. He also showed the character needed to be a starting player in crucial games as he did this season in the Champions League's group stage at Anfield against Liverpool or against Ajax.
The Korean defender has only played the past two seasons in Europe, coming from the Chinese Super League before that. However, it's clear that we are witnessing the explosion of this defender at a high level and we should not be surprised if other European clubs will knock on the door this summer, considering that he has a €45 million release clause in his contract, one which is only valid for clubs outside Italy.
Former Inter and AS Roma defender Juan Jesus will replace Kim in what is going to be a very difficult task. In fact, the Brazilian defender has to replace one of the best players of the roster, but Spalletti trusts him a lot. However, Juan Jesus only started ten games this year, and only once in the Champions League at home against Ajax. This is why the role of defender Amir Rrhamani will be crucial on Tuesday. The Kosovan center back, who has thrived next to Kim, will have to lead the defensive line and he has to do it without his usual teammate. Despite the fact that AC Milan striker Olivier Giroud is not in his best form right now, this matchup will likely be crucial to figure out how Napoli can deal - if they can - without Kim.
What Andre-Frank Zmabo Anguissa brings in midfield
The absence of midfielder Zambo Anguissa will also be a key one. The former Fulham player got a red card in the first leg and won't be available on Tuesday at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. Losing both Kim and Anguissa will be a big problem for Spalletti who will be without two of the more physical players in the middle of the pitch, ones who helped Napoli improve their defensive performances this season but are also hugely important when Napoli have the ball.
Anguissa was a leading midfielder this season and his impact was absolutely crucial to determine the success of Spalletti's side this year. Anguissa played 37 games so far. He only missed three games so far due to a muscular injury and these numbers definitely demonstrate how crucial he is for Spalletti and this team patrolling the right side of central midfield.
Without him, Napoli will likely play Tanguy Ndombele with Piotr Zielinski and Stanislav Lobotka as starters in the 4-3-3. However, Ndombele only started nine games this season in all competitions and can't guarantee the efficiency of Anguissa from a defensive perspective. It's clear that Napoli will be weakened by this crucial absence but Spalletti is left with no other options
It's possible that Napoli will prefer to play on the wings rather than focusing to start the action with the central midfielder as they like to do when Anguissa is playing. Having Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Hirving Lozano or Matteo Politano on the wings will help the home side to try to focus more on a one vs. one against AC Milan's fullbacks. However, it's likely that the Rossoneri will prefer to wait for the opponents in their defensive side and play more on the counterattack, exploiting the pace of Rafael Leao and Brahim Diaz as happened (and worked out perfectly) in the first leg.
Napoli have to deliver and have to score at least two goals if they want to play the Champions League's semifinals. Even if the first leg showed that it won't be easy, Napoli this season demonstrated that at the Maradona everything is possible no matter which players might not be there.
Napoli XI: Meret (GK), Juan Jesus, Mário Rui, Osimhen, Rrahmani, Zielinski, Politano, Di Lorenzo (C), Lobotka, Kvaratskhelia, Ndombele
AC Milan XI: Maignan (GK), Calabria (C), Bennacer, Tonali, Giroud, Brahim Díaz, Rafael Leao, T. Hernandez, Tomori, Kjaer, Krunic,