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.
How should Barcelona line-up against Deportivo Alavés?
After an emphatic victory in Turin, Barcelona return to Spain to take on Deportivo Alavés with their heads held high. A complete performance could bring nothing but optimism to each of the players.
The Catalans have enjoyed an impressive start to their Champions League campaign, having dominated both their oppositions so far. The story in the League, however, has not been as sweet. Heading into their sixth clash, Barcelona languishes at 12th on the table. With only two victories to show for, it is a cause of mild fear.
The Blaugranas now head into their final three clashes before the international break, all of which fall within just 8 days. The tight schedule leading up to this will be a factor that may force rotations. Concurrently, however, Barcelona cannot afford to drop more points in the League. Undoubtedly, man-management is crucial at such a stage when the only accepted results are victories.
The first of the three upcoming clashes comes tomorrow at the Estadio de Mendizorroza. Alavés are always a tricky side to play, however, there is also a Champions League clash just around the corner. Which means it will be crucial for Koeman to find the perfect XI that can capture the best of both worlds.
What to expect from Alaves?
The Vitoria-Gasteiz based side currently find themselves at the wrong half of the table. They had a dismal start to the new season just salvaging the one point from their opening four clashes. Overall, they have emerged on top in just two of their seven games, losing four games in the process. It has been a rough start for the Basque side under new coach Pablo Machin.
Alaves have predominantly played with a back three over the season, though on some occasions they have gone back to a defensive four. The trusted backline for Machin has been the pairing of Victor Laguardia and Florian Lejuene. Machin has complemented them with Ximo Navarro or Rodrigo Ely when in a back three.
The potent attacking side has been the left-wing with Ruben Duarte being a merciless force on the flank. He has started on occasions as the third central defender but has predominantly acted as a fullback for the side.
Ruben Duarte will be Alaves’ biggest threat. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
Rodrigo Battaglia has been crucial to the side with his defensive midfield duties, especially when the fullbacks push in the attack. Irrespective of the system, the side have pushed men into the midfield to gain a numerical superiority. Additionally, overlapping runs have often combined with wider players like Duarte to create openings.
The left-wing has been the more active wing by far, with Pere Pons and Joselu upping the intensity. In attack, Alaves finds itself with an abundance of resources with the likes of Joselu, Lucas Perez and Devyson on its ranks.
Very much like Machin’s Sevilla, this Alaves side has morphed into a 3-5-2 in many games. In defence, the wingbacks drop deep to form a compact five-person back-line. The centre-backs are crucial in the buildup and often invite the high press from oppositions, trying to create holes in the enemy’s formation.
How should Barcelona Line-up?
Barcelona this season have been rejuvenated, especially in pressurising the opposition. This has been primarily because of the addition of young legs in the form of Ansu Fati and Pedri. This was seen once again against Juventus, where the Italian Champions were barely given and space to breathe. With Alaves trying to open up spaces by inviting press, Koeman must choose his front four wisely.
After starting back-to-back high profile clashes, one would expect young Pedri to start this game on the bench. This again opens up space for Antoine Greizmann to start alongside Lionel Messi. While the Frenchman will start as the striker on paper, he will have a fluid role constantly dropping deeper to join the press. Lionel Messi will be starting as the attacking midfielder and will be the focal point of every attack.
After a well-deserved rest in the last game, Ansu Fati will jump back into the starting lineup as the left-winger. On the right side, Ousmane Dembele could get a second successive start. With the Alavés left side being heavily involved in the attack, it is an ideal scenario for Dembele to strike on the counter.
Ansu Fati and Jordi Alba will be a duel threat for Barça on the left. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
The midfield is where there have been a lot of doubts as to working combinations. Starting Sergio Busquets alongside Frenkie de Jong has clearly not worked out for the Catalans. Hence, Miralem Pjanic could find himself a starting position alongside the Dutch midfielder at the Mendizorozza. The Bosnian had a rocky start against his former side on Wednesday; however, he finished the game with a sound performance. Furthermore, his ability to break the lines could prove invaluable against a compact five-man defence.
At left-back, there are hardly any doubts as to who will start. Jordi Alba as always will provide a constant source of worry to the likes of Edgar Mendez whose advanced position could be exploited. It is the right-back position though that is crucial.
Indeed, the Blaugranas will need someone who can quickly recover to his position and mask the potent left-side attack of Alaves. Looking at Sergino Dest’s masterclass against Real Madrid, he would be the ideal man to start at the crucial position.
Ronald Araujo has been ruled out through injury for close to a month. Samuel Umtiti too, has just returned to training. With that in mind, Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet are the only two options to start at central defence. It will be a risky move, but there are no other options for Koeman. One injury or suspension and Barcelona will find themselves at a lack of personnel.
Marc Andre ter Stegen has just returned to training, yet will not be completely fit to start. Undoubtedly, Neto will continue to don the gloves in the German shot-stoppers absence.