Preview and Prediction
Napoli might not be considered as one of the elite teams with tradition. Unlike their opponent, they have never won any UCL title or even made it to the final yet. Their only European title they had was UEFA Cup (the old version of Europa League) back in 1989 when their maestro, Diego Maradona was still the captain. This weekend, Il Partenopei will attempt to push their luck to progress further than round of 16 in the match against Barcelona. They managed to hold them in a 1-1 draw at the first leg at home, so techincally both teams have no particular advantage here.
The teams’ previous matches
Blaugrana had to embrace their failure in La Liga this season by only finishing as runner up. In their last game, they crushed Alaves 5-0 in a non-decisive match. Ansu Fati netted an opener, followed by Lionel Messi with his brace, preceded by Luis Suarez’s and Nelson Semedo’s goal.
Gatusso’s men also secured a 3-1 victory over Lazio in the final matchday of Serie A. Fabian Ruiz gave them the lead before Ciro Immobile equalised. At the second half, they managed to score two more by Lorenzo Insigne’s penalty and Matteo Politano’s strike.
Quique Setien, who has been widely critised for his inability to lead big teams, is likely to employ 4-3-3 with the transition to 4-3-1-2 to optimise their trio frontmen, Messi, Griezmann and Suarez. However, they are bound to leave some key players on the bench due to suspension for Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal, plus the injury of Samuel Umtiti and Ousmane Dembele. Sergi Roberto and Ivan Rakitic are the best choice in the midfield to accompany Frankie De Jong, while Clement Lenglet is the only option apart from Ronald Araujo to support Gerard Pique.
Gennare Gatusso has been in favour of 4-3-3 formation with constant rotation in his squad, especially the front men. He has the luxury to pick among Arkadiusz Milik, Dries Mertens, Hirving Lozano, Jose Callejon, Mateo Politano and Amin Younes. The only concern he has is missing out Lorenzo Insigne who is sidelined due to his injury, along with Nikola Milenkovic.
Players to watch
Blaugrana’s dependence on Messi is still huge. The Argentine star has bagged 25 goals and 21 assists in La Liga, plus two goals and three assists in Championd League. Other names worth watching are Frankie De Jong and Ansu Fati
In Napoli, the leading top scorer of the club is the Polish international Arkadiusz Milik with eleven goals, while the top assist providers are Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon with seven assists each. Another notable name to watch beside Insigne is the Spaniard Fabian Ruiz.
Barcelona vs Napoli Prediction
Il Partenopei’s dream to win UCL might be still too farfetched but to advance on the quarter final is quite doable. The key for Dries Mertens to snatch a win here is by isolating Messi to disrupt Barca’s attacking flow. Once it succeeds, the fortune should be on their side.
The game is supposedly even. Yet, the host is priced to win slightly higher at 1.75 whereas Napoli are projected to win at 5.25. The odds for a draw result are at 4.00.