Barcelona will resume their UEFA Champions League campaign on Tuesday as they travel to Naples to face Napoli in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie.
This could be an important week for FC Barcelona. The Spanish champions have recently managed to overtake Real Madrid at the top of La Liga table, thanks to Los Blancos‘ 1-0 defeat to Levante on the weekend. And on Tuesday, the Catalans will look to seal a priceless away victory when they face Napoli in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.
Barcelona haven’t been able to make an impact in the coveted competition since actually winning it back in 2014-15 campaign. But under new manager Quique Setien, they now have a different approach and it will be interesting to see whether or not the ex-Real Betis boss manages to usher in a trophy-laden era in Catalonia.
Napoli, meanwhile, have enjoyed a good run of form following the arrival of Gennaro Gattuso. The ex-AC Milan coach has managed to turn things around after the club initially endured a disastrous start under Carlo Ancelotti.
As a result, the Partenopei are now sixth in the league table, though they are trailing fifth-placed AS Roma by a considerable six-point margin. But on the bright side, the Italian giants have won their last three games, including a narrow first-leg win over Inter Milan in the Coppa Italia semi-final.
And here, at the Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over the two sides ahead of this highly-anticipated match-up in the Champions League this midweek.
Tactics & Team News
Gattuso has already hinted that Napoli could employ a rigid system, where players are likely to stick close to one another to form an impenetrable compact defensive scheme. This could make the likes of Kostas Manolas and Nikola Maksimovic extremely important to the squad.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Mario Rui could also play a vital role in the full-back slots. They are expected to operate in a deeper role though, more focused on providing defensive cover for the two central defenders.
In the second line of press, Gattuso will rely mainly on Diego Demme, who is quite familiar with a compact setup from his time at RB Leipzig. He could be partnered by Fabian Ruiz and Piotr Zielinski, who started on the bench against Brescia, though he did later make a substitute appearance.
In attack, Fernando Llorente has missed the training with flu and we don’t expect him to feature against Barcelona. Nonetheless, Arkadiusz Milik is more than a guaranteed starter as the number nine, where he will be tasked with the responsibility of leading the Napoli frontline.
The Pole will be supported by the wide-attacking duo of Matteo Politano and captain Lorenzo Insigne. Hirving Lozano and Jose Callejon are additional options for Gattuso in the final third.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Maksimovic, Rui; Ruiz, Demme, Zielinski; Politano, Milik, Insigne
Barcelona will continue to miss out on the services of key attackers like Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele through injury. That means Antoine Griezmann could once again lead the attack, alongside Lionel Messi, who will operate at right-wing.
Ansu Fati seems like a guaranteed starter at left-wing as Martin Braithwaite is not registered to play in the UEFA Champions League while Carles Perez moved to AS Roma in January. Fati could, therefore, form the Barca frontline alongside Messi and Griezmann.
Frenkie de Jong was rested in Barcelona’s 5-0 win over SD Eibar. He is expected to return to the squad and pair up with the ever-present figure of Sergio Busquets in central midfield. Alongside them, Ivan Rakitic is likely to get the nod ahead of Arthur Melo and Arturo Vidal.
And finally, in defence, Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet are more than likely to sit in at the heart of the four-man backline. Nelson Semedo and Junior Firpo are guaranteed starters elsewhere, especially with Sergi Roberto out injured.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Firpo; de Jong, Busquets, Rakitic; Messi, Griezmann, Fati
- This will be the first competitive encounter between Napoli and Barcelona.
- Napoli were eliminated in their two previous European Cup/Champions League two-legged ties with Spanish opposition, both times against Real Madrid.
- Barcelona’s last away win against Italian opposition in the Champions League knockout stages came in April 2006, when they beat AC Milan 1-0, courtesy of a Ludovic Giuly goal; current Napoli manager Gattuso played in that game for AC Milan.
- Napoli have reached the Champions League knockout stages for the third time in six appearances. However, they have never progressed further than the Round of 16.
- Barcelona have progressed past the Champions League Round of 16 in each of their last 12 seasons, the longest run in the history of the tournament. Liverpool were the last side to eliminate them in the Round of 16, back in 2006/07 season.
Player to Watch
Messi stunned SD Eibar in the last game, scoring four goals in a 5-0 win that helped Barcelona regain their spot at the top of La Liga table. He is in red hot form at the moment and is currently one of the most productive players in Europe’s top five leagues this season.
Therefore, this game will surely revolve around the performance of Messi. Especially with Suarez and Dembele out injured, it will be interesting to see whether or not the Argentine will be able to make an impact and beat the rigid and disciplined Napoli defence.
Messi’s combination play with Griezmann is something definitely worth keeping an eye on this midweek. As for Napoli, they must keep hold of these two individuals if they are to have any hopes of containing Barcelona.
Napoli 1-2 Barcelona
Barcelona are coming on the back of a good run of results and a host of their players have also enjoyed good form under current manager Setien. And despite missing some of their key players, we expect the Catalans to outclass their Italian opponents this week, though their faulty defence might once again be exploited.