Benitez couldnt have asked for a better 55th birthday present than this, the demolition of one of German best clubs, Wolfsburg at the Volkswagen Arena, Wolfsburg.
Wolfsburg came into the match in great form having lost just one of their last 26 outings in all competitions, they eliminated Italian opposition in the previous round with a comfortable 5-2 aggregate victory over Inter Milan.
Wolfsburg’s manager, Dieter Hecking made two changes from the side that ran out 2-0 winners at Hamburg at the weekend, with Max Arnold and Ivan Perisic dropped to the bench. Their replacements, Luis Gustavo and Andre Schurrle brought in to add valuable experience to the team.
The Paternopei ( as they are fondly called in Italy) recovered from their Coppa Italia exit at the hands of Fiorentina on Sunday, Rafa Benitez made four changes, dropping Kalidou Koulibaly, Ivan Strinic, Walter Gargano and Walter Gabbiadini and replacing them with Marek Hamsik, Gokhan Inler, Miguel Britos and Faouzi Ghoulam respectively.
Both teams arranged their formation in the 4-2-3-1 mode, a perfect style for attacking and counter-attacking mode of play.
History has it that the 1988-89 Champions, Napoli left an indelible memory in the minds of people when Diego Maradona inspired the team to victory after beating Locomotive Leipzig, Bayern Munich enroute to meeting Stuttgart in the finals which ended 3-3 in aggregate draw away from home, so a victory over the German side will be worthwhile.
The game began with plenty of intensity and had Wolfsburg moving the ball quickly, pushing forward at a fast pace but it took 15 minutes for the tournament highest goal scorer Argentine Gonzalo Higuain to register his name on the scoresheet for Napoli.
Mertens clips a fantastic diagonal pass over the top of the defence from the left, the striker brings it down and lashes a shot beyond Benaglio to give his side the lead.
In the 23rd minute, Hamsik receives an excellent through pass from Higuain and he made no mistake sliding the ball beyond Wolfsburg’s keeper, making it 2-0.
It got worse for the German side in the 64th minute when Hamsik made it 3-0, Jose Callejon squares up the Slovakian international midfielder after falling upon a sloopy ball, he darts off with it and set up Hamsik who got his brace and made it 3-0.
In the 76th minute, Napoli got its fourth goal through Manolo Gabbiadini who was picked out by Lorenzo Insigne with a brilliant cross, the former Sampdoria man met the cross and heads it back into the post, Benaglio just couldn’t stop it.
Wolfsburg got a consolation goal in the 80th minute when Ivan Perisic throws a stepover at Albiol, drove beyond him to the byline and then lay the pass to Nicklas Bendtner who slots it home, making it 4-1.
The scoreline remained unchanged after the full 90minutes despite efforts by Wolfsburg to add to their tally but it was the Italian side that took the huge advantage into the second leg in Naples which will be coming up next week, on the 23rd in Italy.
Wolfsburg really have an uphill task to climb, this is the heaviest home defeat for them in Europe but one hopes that favour might smile on them and maybe turn the tables round when the sides meet again, till then, Benitez only needs to enjoy the gift from his boys.