A tight and intense match was played at Stadio San Paolo in Naples on the night of 25th February. Napoli drew with Barcelona as the match ended 1-1, with Dries Mertens and Antoine Griezmann scoring for their sides. At the time, no one would’ve imagined that the second leg would be played half a year later in front of no fans.
Napoli will travel to Catalonia on Saturday, as the match kicks off at 12:30am, IST, on Sunday. Both sides share a lot of similarities—both are coming off the back of underwhelming league seasons. While Napoli finished 7th in Serie A, Barcelona lost out on the La Liga title, coming second to Real Madrid.
Both sides also have injuries in their squad. Club captain Lorenzo Insigne damaged his adductor muscle in his left thigh and bruised a bone in the dying minutes of their final league match against Lazio. Whilst reports coming out of Italy say that “he will do everything in his power to be able to play against Barcelona”, the signs aren’t promising for the Italian winger.
On the other hand, Barcelona suffer from injury woes of their own. Centre-backs Samuel Umtiti and Ronald Araújo are injured. Jorge Cuenca, a player for Barcelona B, was next in line to be called up for the matchday squad. He also suffered an injury, and is ruled out for the match. Meanwhile, Ousmane Dembélé and Antoine Griezmann are coming back from injuries as well, and the latter should be perfectly fit for the match.
Suspensions to Arturo Vidal and Sergio Busquets, and Arthur’s heated situation with the club mean that Barcelona will only have four first-team midfielders available for selection, and that is counting both Sergi Roberto and Riqui Puig.
Napoli have enjoyed the highest average possession in Serie A, ahead of the likes of Juventus, Inter, and Atalanta. However, at Camp Nou, Gattuso’s men will be expected to be extremely disciplined as a low- or a mid-block and look to hit Barcelona on the counter with the likes of Mertens, Lozano and Callejón.
Barcelona have struggled to break teams down all season, owing to the lack of quality and personnel in the wider areas of the pitch. They will, of course, have a trump card in the form of Lionel Messi, who can be the difference maker for his team.
However, Napoli aren’t a team to be underestimated. They are unbeaten away in Europe. Despite struggling in the league, they won the Coppa Italia, knocking Inter out in the semis and beating Juventus in the final. They are more than capable of rising to the occasion in big games.
This promises to be a spectacular game, decided by fine margins. With almost an equal aggregate score coming into the match, may the best team win!
-Written by Rushil Dalal