An eternity later, the Champions League is back at the Camp Nou on Saturday night. Here’s the preview of the match between Barcelona and Napoli in the second leg of the last 16 of the European contest.
Date and kick-off time: Saturday 8 August 2020, 21:00 CET
Stadium: Camp Nou, Barcelona
Competition: UEFA Champions League, Round of 16, second leg
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır
The Champions League is officially back, and it comes with 16 days of absolute chaos. Four teams have already played their return leg in the Round of 16, four more are yet to do so, while others will head into the quarter-final to take part in single-leg fixtures.
Manchester City increased their lead against record champions Real Madrid, while Juventus couldn’t overturn Olympique Lyonnais’ 1–0 edge at the Allianz Stadium. After City and Lyon qualified into the next stage on Friday, more fun is expected on Saturday night. Bayern Munich will hope for another field day as they welcome Chelsea to the Allianz Arena with their 3–0 advantage. The last of these return legs features Barcelona taking on Napoli at the Camp Nou after the teams were deadlocked for a 1–1 draw at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples.
It may sound like a menial task for the blaugranas, who are undefeated at the Camp Nou in the Champions League since 2013. However, the team is probably at an all-time low in terms of morale after a disastrous end to their campaign. This includes them being dethroned as La Liga holders, selling one of their best midfielders, Arthur Melo, in what has been an incredibly controversial saga, Lionel Messi subtly lashing out at the board, and finally, an incredible undefeated run at the home ground in the league which came to an end by the hands of Osasuna in the last home game of the season. Additionally, there have been rumours floating around regarding the future of Quique Setién, which will depend on the team’s performance in the Champions League.
What to expect from Barcelona?
It would be fair to say that there is probably a no better time to visit the Camp Nou for the opposition. There are too many underlying issues in the structure of the club which seem to mirror themselves on the pitch. The fortress has already been compromised, and consequently, Barcelona look rattled.
Quique Setién has tried one too many team set-ups, which is fair since the Spanish manager joined in January and did not get enough time to come up with his best structure. This was also visible in the first leg, where Arturo Vidal was fielded as the right-winger. Barça cannot afford to make the same mistake again. The player he picks will be pivotal to Barcelona’s future in the competition and his in the club.
“We have come to the Napoli game prepared. I think the break has helped us rest and prepare for a big game”
Nevertheless, we foresee a more cautious approach from Barcelona, who conceded 11 fouls in the first leg. This is because Lionel Messi, Nélson Semedo and Antoine Griezmann are all on the risk of suspension and could miss the quarter-finals.
Even so, if their game against Deportivo Alavés on the last matchday of the season is anything to go by, we know that the club is more than capable of playing attacking football with an intent to demolish. The club has a point to prove, and we should expect nothing less than that.
What to expect from Napoli?
Napoli were clever to exploit Barcelona’s major weakness under Setién, i.e. defend with a low block. Gennaro Gattuso overcrowded the midfield with the help of his wingers who dropped deep to form a five-man layer in the centre of the park.
We should expect more of the same tomorrow, especially since they will be visiting Camp Nou where Barça are a more significant threat. They will look to sit back and wait possession out or press heavily in the midfield, which will lead to turnovers and then counter-attacks. Napoli boast of one of the quickest frontlines in world football and will not hesitate to break free every time they get a chance.
If Napoli score first at the Camp Nou again, they will put Barcelona into great trouble | Photo by Michael Steele via Getty Images
Additionally, Gattuso will hope to milk the most out of Fabián Ruiz whose ability to carry the ball out of pressure situations will come in handy against the likes of Frenkie de Jong, Riqui Puig and Antoine Griezmann. Furthermore, we can also expect their midfield to go crashing into challenges to help win back the ball, especially in the absence of Sergio Busquets and Vidal.
Last five games: WLWWW
Deportivo Alavés 0–5 Barcelona | La Liga
Barcelona 1–2 Osasuna | La Liga
Real Valladolid 0–1 Barcelona | La Liga
Barcelona 1–0 Espnayol | La Liga
Villarreal 1–4 Barcelona | La Liga
“Roma and Liverpool? We are not thinking about that”
Position in La Liga
82 points in 38 games
25 wins, 7 draws and 6 losses
86 Goals Scored, 38 Goals Conceded
+48 Goal Difference
Last five games: WLWLW
Napoli 3–1 Lazio | Serie A
Inter 2–0 Napoli | Serie A
Napoli 2–0 Sassuolo | Serie A
Parma 2–1 Napoli | Serie A
Napoli 2–1 Udinese | Serie A
Position in the Serie A
62 points in 38 games
18 wins, 8 draws and 12 losses
61 Goals Scored, 50 Goals Conceded
+11 Goal Difference
Napoli finished 7th in the Serie A, but the mood changes for the Champions League | Photo by Francesco Pecoraro via Getty Images
• Napoli are undefeated in the Champions League this season. They have won three games and drawn four
• Barcelona and Napoli have only met five times previously, out of which only one has been an official game. The record stands 3–1–1 in favour of Barça
• Gennaro Gattuso and Quique Setien have crosses paths only thrice previously. Out of the three games, two have been draws, and the current Barcelona gaffer has won one.
Team News and Possible Line-ups
Injured: Samuel Umtiti (knee), Ousmane Dembélé (hamstring)
Suspended: Sergio Busquets, Arturo Vidal
Semedo · Piqué · Lenglet · Jordi Alba
De Jong · Rakitić · RiquiPuig
Griezmann · Suárez
Coach: Quique Setién
Injured: Nikola Maksimović, Konstantinos Manolas
“Insigne did 50 percent of the training on Thursday and today [Friday] he did 100 percent, but it will be his decision along with me and the doctors”
Hysaj · Di Lorenzo · Koulibaly · Mário Rui
Fabián Ruiz · Demme · Zieliński
Callejón · Mertens · Insigne
It is hard not to be pessimistic about this fixture, especially with everything going inside the club and on the pitch. In the recent past, we have seen that Barcelona crumble under pressure, even though it is scanty. And we should not be fooled by the top-notch display by the players against Deportivo Alavés; like Messi said, “We had no pressure on us today”.
That said, thanks to the aforementioned genius, Barcelona will go into this game as favourites. A show awaits us. The writer’s prediction: a 2–1 win for the Garnet and the Blue.
Predicted Barcelona lineup against Elche
The Copa del Rey game was an eye-opener in ways unimaginable. On the one hand, it brought some amazing takeaways. One such was the performance of Ronald Araujo, who has now not been dribbled past in his last 10 appearances.
At the same time, however, it bright to light some worrying signs. The youngsters given a chance failed to grab it tightly. The finishing was beyond poor. What more can be said of a night where the Catalans failed to score two penalties. At the end of the day, it once again required two assists from Pedri and a moment of brilliance from Dembele to take the Catalans home.
Barcelona’s tenure away from the Camp Nou goes on as they now move to the Estadio Martinez Valero. Ronald Koeman’s side now faces Elche, the 18th placed side in the Spanish top tier. Here is how Barcelona can lineup against Elche, as Ronald Koeman prepares yet another game with an unstable XI.
After a deserved rest in the Copa del Rey, Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be back in duty for the Blaugranas. The German was absolutely stellar for his side in the Super Cup and will look to produce more of his magic.
Ronald Araujo’s growth as a defender can just be described as meteoric. The trajectory of the young defender is mindblowing, as he continues producing 10/10 performances game after game. He will be in the heart of defence on the night, with Clement Lenglet by his side.
Sergi Roberto and Sergino Dest are both very close to their respective returns. However, we are likely to see Oscar Mingueza get a successive start at Right-back against Elche. The Spaniard has been solid in defence, and that is all is expected from a part-time full-back.
Junior Firpo started the game against Cornella but contributed very little. Hardly anything to convince the manager. That said, Jordi Alba, himself is coming off a terrible performance in the final of the Super-cup. The Spaniard will undoubtedly start, but will he impress?
Sergio Busquets will start the night as the defensive midfielder in the 4-3-3 setup. Though maybe not his best, his performance has seen a massive spike since the formation change. He will be a crucial factor on the night, given Jorge Almiron’s rather attack-minded setup.
Frenkie de Jong has been by far the most consistent midfielder for Barcelona, and his ability to decide games is finally getting the limelight it deserves. Just over the last month, the Dutch protege has grown in leaps and bounds. He will be a crucial part of the team on Sunday.
As one talks of prodigies, Pedri is the next biggest name to pop up. Coming on as a substitute, the youngster contributed to both of Barcelona’s goals in extra time, almost single-handedly setting up the second. Pedri is wise beyond his years, and it doesn’t take more than the naked eye to see that he is something special. He will round up the midfield for the League game.
Lionel Messi continues to serve his ban and misses the trip to Elche. That said, the onus is once again on Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Greizmann to step up. The French duo is expected to start, on the left-wing and right-wing respectively.
Dembele was the man who made the difference in the cup game. The ease with which he nets bangers doesn’t quite match his inability to finish chances on a platter. He will be looking to make the most of his chance to impress in the hope he can bag a contract extension soon, and end all rumours of his departure.
Martin Braithwaite will round up the starting XI. Amidst all the confusion, the Dane continues to work at his highest rate to contribute to the team. Though his quality can be doubted, his commitment cannot. He netted the second goal against Cornella in a neat fashion. Once again, he hopes to be on the scoresheet on Sunday.
Griezmann · Braithwaite · Dembele
Pedri · Busquets · de Jong
Alba · Lenglet · Araujo · Mingueza
Konrad de le Fuente impressed mightily in his time on the field against Cornella. His performance will surely seed the possibility of his getting more minutes in the League.
Riqui Puig could have made so much more of his chance to impress, but just couldn’t show his magic on the night. However, his quality off the bench cannot be doubted. It is a real possibility for him to see minutes on the night.
Miralem Pjanic dictated the midfield neatly in the previous game. He could feature towards the latter half of the game in place of Sergio Busquets.