Date and Time: 17th February, 6:45 PM CET
Venue: Camp Nou
Competition: UEFA Europa League
Referee: Istvan Kovacs
For the first time in over a decade, FC Barcelona crashed out of the group stages of the UEFA Champions League. The Catalans finished third in their group, with Bayern Munich and Benfica taking the top two spots.
Now, the quest for the Europa League trophy begins. Though not as coveted as the first tier European competition, it is Barcelona’s only realistic chance of tasting silverware this season. There is little doubt that the competition will now be one of the primary objectives for Xavi’s team.
The first and likely the most difficult opposition that the Blaugranas face is Napoli. The Italians have been unstoppable under Luciano Spalletti this season and sit seven points clear of fourth-placed Juventus.
Defensively, the Italians have been perfect without any compromise in the quality of the attack.
What to expect from Barcelona?
When the Blaugranas were last at Camp Nou, they annihilated Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid ruthlessly. The performance won praise from across the world and was widely called the resurgence of Xavi’s Barcelona.
However, it was very close to being undone in Cornella. The visitors took an early lead against Espanyol before being pegged back by two lethal counterattacks. Against the run of play, Barcelona came painfully close to losing the derby. It was only a Luuk de Jong goal in the last minute that secured a point on the night.
Napoli stands next on the fixture list, and Xavi is likely to stick to the same core of players for the Europa League clash.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen will start in goal on the night. The German has conceded four goals in the last two games and will be determined to keep a clean sheet once again.
Barcelona suffered a big setback when Ronald Araujo suffered a Soleus injury late in the first half on Sunday. Though the Uruguayan is willing to push himself to play, Xavi would rather rest the defender than risk a bigger injury. In his absence, the pairing of Gerard Pique and Eric Garcia is expected to start.
Dani Alves is not registered for the Europa League and will not be able to play any part in the proceedings. Naturally, one would expect Sergino Dest to take over duties at right-back. On the left of defence, Jordi Alba is likely to resume duties.
Xavi is spoilt for options in midfield once again. The abundance of talent in the squad cannot be done justice with just three midfield positions. For the crucial fixture, the trio of Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, and Pedri is expected to start.
While Pedri and Busquets are indispensable to Xavi’s plans, de Jong can provide defensive cover better than other options.
For the last two games, the manager has opted to deploy Gavi on the left wing. The teenager adapted seamlessly and made the position his own. Against Napoli, the 17-year-old will probably continue in that role.
Ferran Torres and Adama Traore will be the central striker and right winger on Thursday, in all likelihood. The winter signings have made their mark clear at Barcelona and cannot be benched at this point.
Probable Barcelona XI: Ter Stegen; Dest, Garcia, Pique, Alba; Pedri, Busquets, de Jong; Adama, Torres, Gavi
What to expect from Napoli?
The Naples based side are on a four-game unbeaten streak at the moment and head to Camp Nou with momentum on their side. Their last league defeat came in December when they went down fighting against Spezia.
It would appear as if Spalletti would opt for the same lineup, with two changes, that played out a stalemate against Inter Milan at the weekend.
The Italians’ goal was guarded by David Ospina, who has 11 league clean sheets this season. In front of him, the formidable pairing of Amir Rrahmani and Kalidou Koulibaly is expected to continue. Giovanni di Lorenzo will likely start at right-back, with Mario Rui taking over duties on the opposite flank.
Spalletti’s 4-2-3-1 formation features a solid double pivot. We expect Fabian Ruiz and Andre Anguissa to man the lower midfield, holding the fort against the Barcelona attackers.
Matteo Politano is a doubt for the clash at Camp Nou after sustaining a calf injury against Inter Milan. The right-winger will likely be replaced by Eljif Elmas who has had a sensational Europa campaign so far.
Lorenzo Insigne will almost certainly be deployed as the left-winger. Our predicted lineup will be completed by Victor Osimhen as the number 9 and Piotr Zielinski playing off him as the #10.
Probable Napoli XI: Ospina; di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Koulibaly, Rui; Ruiz, Anguissa; Elmas, Zielinski, Insigne; Osimhen
In July 2020, Napoli announced the signing of Victor Osimhen for a club-record fee of €70 million. The striker was spoken of as a unique player who has aerial dominance, a killer instinct, and lightning pace.
However, the Nigerian could not show his abilities for a long time owing to injuries and setbacks. This season, however, he has shown what he is capable of when fit.
In 13 Serie A starts, he has scored six goals for the Naples based side. Though not involved in the buildup too much, his moments of magic are often enough to seal the game for his team. With the Nigerian standing on four goals from three Europa League games this term, Barcelona’s defence will have to be varied.
Barcelona previous games: DWWLL
Espanyol 2-2 Barcelona | La Liga
Barcelona 4-2 Atletico Madrid | La Liga
Deportivo Alaves 0-1 Barcelona | La Liga
Athletic Club 3-2 Barcelona | Copa del Rey
Real Madrid 3-2 Barcelona | Spanish Supercup
Napoli previous games: DWWWL
Napoli 1-1 Inter Milan | Serie A
Venezia 0-2 Napoli | Serie A
Napoli 4-1 Salernitana | Serie A
Bologna 0-2 Napoli | Serie A
Napoli 2-5 Fiorentina | Coppa Italia
Barcelona 3-1 Napoli | UEFA Champions League 2020-21
Napoli 1-1 Barcelona | UEFA Champions League 2020-21
Napoli 0-4 Barcelona | Club Friendly 2019
Barcelona 2-1 Napoli | Club Friendly 2019
Barcelona 0-1 Napoli | Club Friendly 2014
- Napoli have not beaten Barcelona in their last four encounters.
- Napoli have scored first in six of their last seven games.
- Barcelona have conceded goals in six of their last seven outings.
- Napoli have conceded the third least goals in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season, only behind Sevilla and Manchester City.
- Five of Napoli’s last seven games have had a first-half winner.
The Catalans dropped two points in their last game despite dominating proceedings, and the feeling of injustice will push them harder than ever before. Napoli will likely score on the counter, but Xavi’s side can come out with a win on the night. The home ground advantage will push Barcelona to get a favourable result on Thursday.
Barca Universal prediction: Barcelona 2-1 Napoli