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Three talking points ahead of Barcelona vs Napoli

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Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

In over 24 hours, Barcelona will play their first UEFA Champions League knockout clash at home in three years. The past two seasons have not been easy for them from a European standpoint, but they have progressed to the Round of 16 this time around and have fared decently to this point.

Having played the first leg against Napoli at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium last month, the Catalans salvaged a 1-1 draw. They were the better side and should have inflicted a massive deficit on the Italians, but their inability to finish chances sees them on level terms with Napoli.

Tomorrow’s clash, thus, gains precedence as a must-win game for both defending league champions. Xavi’s men can claim to have a slight edge in terms of venue, but the match is well-balanced apart from that factor.

Barça Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Barcelona vs Napoli.

The home stretch

There was a time when Champions League knockout fixtures were feared at Barcelona. With back-to-back humiliations at the hands of Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Roma not providing any respite, the club was under immense pressure to step up in Europe.

What followed, however, showed one the value of the Catalans’ mere presence in the knockout stages. Two consecutive seasons in the Europa League did not stand well on the Blaugranas’ resume, and tomorrow will be the first time the Champions League returns to Barcelona for a knockout fixture.

Despite dominating the game in Italy last month, Barcelona brought home no tangible advantage after one defensive error helped Napoli equalise. Thus, they have everything to play for tomorrow and the only advantage Xavi’s men can boast of is having the game in Montjuic.

The Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys may not be as special as the Spotify Camp Nou, but it has served as a decent foster home while the primary stadium undergoes renovation.

Xavi’s side will thus not enjoy the entire thrill of playing in front of nearly 100,000 fans, but playing in home territory ought to offer them some edge nevertheless. Tomorrow’s result, largely, will depend on how the Azulgranas utilise their territorial advantage.

Selection dilemma

Xavi has some key decisions to make. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

Heading into Tuesday night’s gargantuan clash, Xavi faces massive decisions he must make on the night. Some are prompted by an excess of resources while others by a deficiency, yet, both decisions will have a binding effect on the result on the night.

The first big choice the manager must make is between Inigo Martinez and Pau Cubarsi in defence. One profile offers endless experience and seasoned feet while the other is one of Spain’s brightest upcoming talents with a good run of form on him.

Last time against Napoli, the manager gave Martinez the nod. While the Spaniard did shell out a convincing performance for most parts, he erred once and conceded the equalising goal.

The second, and perhaps the bigger decision, lies in the team’s overall setup. After all, Pedri and Frenkie de Jong’s injuries leave Xavi relatively understaffed in midfield.

Fermin Lopez, Sergi Roberto and Oriol Romeu are the options to join Ilkay Gundogan and Andreas Christensen in midfield, but the big question is – will Xavi opt for three or four midfielders on the night?

If the Spanish tactician opts to deploy four midfielders including a false winger on the left, Roberto would be the ideal option to play wide with Fermin filling in the centre.

Given the captain’s lack of match fitness, however, it is likely that he will start on the bench and prompt the manager to choose between Vitor Roque and Raphinha on the left wing.

Do-or-die

Barcelona, in recent years, have not enjoyed a good history with knockout games and tournaments. Even in their league-winning run last season, they faltered in the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Champions League due to their inability to step up under pressure.

With the first leg ending in a draw, however, Barcelona are in a must-win situation heading into tomorrow’s clash at Montjuic. After all, the away goals rule no longer exists, providing equal weightage to both Napoli and Barcelona’s goals in the first leg.

The Catalans do not have much more to fight for in the remainder of the campaign. La Liga is virtually out of their hand, while they are no longer in the Copa del Rey. The Champions League, thus, is the only competition where they still sit on par with other competitors and stand a chance.

It is thus imperative that Xavi’s men step up to the occasion and prove to the world that they still can deliver under pressure. Moving to the final eight of the prestigious event will serve as a massive confidence booster, and as Ilkay Gundogan recently said, momentum can pull any team through from that point.

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