Competition Focus

PREVIEW | FC Barcelona v Napoli

A place in the Champions League quarter finals beckons. After the 1-1 draw in Naples three weeks ago, there’s everything to play for as FC Barcelona and Napoli go head to head to head once again, only this time at the Estadi Olimpic. Barça are hoping to knock Napoli out of Europe for the third time in five years, while the Italians are looking to match their best ever run in this competition, when they reached the quarter finals last season.

The game kicks off at 9pm CET on Tuesday (this way for a complete global viewing guide), in which the Catalans will be looking to continue their excellent Liga form, where they are on a seven match unbeaten run and have kept three consecutive clean sheets, onto the European stage, where they are back competing in the knockout stages of the continent’s premier club competition after the disappointment of missing out in the last two seasons.


Napoli resurgence

But the task is going to be anything but easy. Napoli are the defending Serie A champions, and although their title defence hasn’t gone anything like as well as they would have hoped, there has been a marked improvement since Francesco Calzona took over as coach.

The Slovakia manager replaced Walter Mazzarri at the helm of the Italian club just two days before hosting Barça in the first leg at the Stadio Diego Maradona. His first league game in charge was a 1-1 draw at Cagliari, but he has followed that with a 6-1 demolition job of Sassuolo a prestigious 2-1 defeat of Juventus and a 1-1 draw with Torino on Friday to keep his unbeaten start alive.

Georgian striker Kvaratskhelia particularly seems to have found a new lease of life under the manager, scoring four and giving one assist, and very much back in the kind of form in Napoli’s title winning year.

It makes the game all the more fascinating, for things haven’t always gone to plan for the reigning Liga champions this season either, but in their case there have also been very distinct signs of improvement of late.

And for both sides, the Champions League is perhaps the best chance of redeeming a trophy-less season. This is more the case where Napoli are concerned, for they are languishing in seventh place in the league, already well out of the hunt for the title and with no guarantee of any kind of European football next season. Barça, meanwhile, are by no means out of contention in their own league, but do face the difficult challenge of making up an 8-point difference on leaders Real Madrid.

Team news

Barça were gradually putting their injury woes behind them, but things took a sudden shift in the wrong direction when midfield lynchpins Frenkie de Jong and Pedri were both injured in the 0-0 draw with Athletic and will be unavailable for this one, as are Gavi and Alejandro Balde, who are both out for the season. Striker Ferran Torres is well on the mend from his hamstring injury, but not in time for this one either.

Two players stand to make their Champions League debuts today. Vitor Roque wasn’t used in Naples, but this game may well present an opportunity. Meanwhile, if Pau Cubarsi plays, he would become the youngest defender ever to wear the blaugrana jersey in this competition, surpassing Hector Fort, who set the record just a few months ago against Antwerp.   

The Italians are somewhat more fortunate in the injury department and are only missing central midfielder Jens Cajuste to a hamstring sprain, although there are questions marks concerning the fitness of Cyril Ngonge and Amir Rrahmani, while Poland international Piotr Zielinski is not registered to play in the Champions League.

What happened in Naples

Barça utterly dominated the first 45 minutes of the game in Naples, and deservedly took the lead through Robert Lewandowski but should perhaps have capitalised more on their many other chances. Instead, after looking somewhat out of their depth early on, there was a vast improvement in Napoli’s football as the game progressed, and they eventually equalised through Victor Osimhen, who in doing so became the joint highest scoring Nigerian in the history of the competition.

In fact, Napoli had further chances to even win the match, and afterwards Xavi expressed his frustration that instead of bringing a big win back to the Catalan capital, his team still has a lot of work to do if they are to be one the last eight in this competition.


Happening elsewhere

A reminder of last week’s results and this week’s fixtures in the other Champions League last 16 match-ups:

PSG beat Real Sociedad 4-1 on aggregate
Bayern Munich beat Lazio 4-0 on aggregate
Manchester City beat Copenhagen 6-2 on aggregate
Real Madrid beat RB Leipzig 2-1 on aggregate

Also playing Tuesday
Arsenal v Porto (Porto lead 1-0 from first leg)
Playing Wednesday
Atlético Madrid v Inter Milan (Inter lead 1-0 from the first leg)
Borussia Dortmund v PSV Eindhoven (first leg ended 1-1)


What they’re saying

Speaking the day before game, Barça boss Xavi commented that “we were the better side over there and on Tuesday we have to be the better side here … We must not be afraid of making mistakes, the players need to control their emotions so they don’t rebound against us.” 

“I expect to be up against a valiant Napoli side who will play from the back and try to control possession. I don’t think they will sit back with the tie as it is.”


The man chosen to represent the players before the media was goalkeeper Ter Stegen, who underlined the importance of trying to keep a clean sheet, knowing that as long as the team can manage that, then just one goal at the other end of the pitch will be enough to secure the objective.

Also on Monday, Napoli manager Francesco Calzona and striker Matteo Politano shared their own views with the press, and both seemed to think huge strides have been made in the last few weeks and that Barça will be facing a very different kind of team to the one that they met in Souther Italy three weeks ago.

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