Barcelona vs Napoli - Champions League Preview and Prediction
Barcelona is all set to host Napoli in the second leg of the last-16 round in the UEFA Champions League tonight. Will Blaugrana succeed in getting past the Italian club? (Let me know in the comments section).
The last time these two clubs faced each other was back in February in the first leg of the last-16 round. The game ended with a scoreline of 1-1 with Dries Mertens putting the home side ahead before Antoine Griezmann equalized in the second half, providing an away goal advantage to the Spanish giants.
The recent performance of Barcelona doesn't suggest that they will defeat Napoli comfortably. The Blues, on the other hand, have the same story as they finished on the seventh position in the Serie A this season.
In the ongoing Champions League season, however, Napoli is unbeaten as of now. The Blues defeated the current champions Liverpool 2-0 in the first-leg in group stages and then drew 1-1 at Anfield.
Barcelona, on the other hand, is going through a tough period. They missed the opportunity to win La Liga as Real Madrid sprinted past them to grab their 34th league title. In the last La Liga game, however, Blaugrana thrashed Alaves 5-0 while Napoli won 3-1 against Lazio on the last day of the Serie A.
The Spanish giants are undefeated in their last 35 Champions League fixture at home while Napoli have never been past the Round of 16 in the competition history. Moreover, Barcelona are undefeated in their last 15 games against Italian club in the UCL.
Ousmane Dembele won't be part of this crucial fixture as he is suffering from an injury while Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal are suspended for this game.
This means that we will see Frenkie De Jong taking his favorable center midfield position with Ivan Rakitic and Sergi Roberto on either side of the midfield.
Napoli, on the other hand, will be without Nikola Maksimovic as he is also sidelined due to injury. Overall, there are no major changes in the Blues' squad and they look dangerous with their current expected squad.
Lionel Messi vs Kalidou Koulibaly
Lionel Messi is one of the most important players for Barcelona and he is the only one, who can help them in scoring and motivating the side during current issues. Kalidou Koulibaly, on the other hand, can't be taken lightly as he is quite good at the back.
The Barcelona winger has scored 30 goals and provided 24 assists in his 42 appearances in all competitions while Koulibaly has made 2.1 tackles per game along with 2.9 clearances in every game in his 33 appearances in all competitions this season.
Messi will try to score an early goal as it will put the pressure of the away team while the defender will try to contain the winger, however, we all know that it's not easy to keep Leo silent.
Gerard Pique vs Dries Mertens
Dries Mertens will be in action and he is someone who can help Napoli in creating a record by qualifying to the quarter-final of the Champions League for the first time in history. This task, however, won't be easy with Gerard Pique leading the backline of Barcelona.
Mertens has scored 16 goals and provided 8 assists in his 40 appearances in all competitions while Pique has made one interception per game and 4.4 clearances in every game in his 43 appearances in all competitions this season.
The Napoli striker will try his best to score an away goal as his side is quite capable of stopping the other side from scoring. Pique, on the other hand, will try to contain Mertens and stop him from getting any space or chance to score.
The two teams are undefeated in their last seven fixtures in the Champions League. Barcelona have to move over La Liga and focus on the Champions League. Napoli, on the other hand, would like to end their average season on a good note by qualifying for the quarter-final.
There are quality players on both sides, it all depends on, which players step up and deliver in this crucial fixture. If Barcelona wants to make things better, then it's really important for them to win this fixture and move further in the Champions League.
So, keeping everything in mind, I feel that Barcelona will score a couple of goals and will concede only one goal to go through to the next stage of the UCL.
Prediction - Barcelona 2 - 1 Napoli
Final Aggregate - Barcelona 3 - 2 Napoli