Napoli vs Barcelona: Champions League Preview and Prediction
Napoli is all set to host Barcelona in the first leg of the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League at Stadio San Paolo, tonight. Will the Blues continue their unbeaten streak in the UCL?
Well, after dropping down to mid-table in the Serie A few days back, Napoli have bounced back in the league with six wins from their last seven fixtures in all competitions. The Blues defeated Internazionale away and Juventus at home recently.
Barcelona, on the other hand, were nothing different, they also had a change of manager in the mid-season and dropped points. Now, however, they have won four consecutive league games with their last La Liga victory coming against Eibar and are league leaders currently with two points gap over the second-placed Real Madrid.
So, looking at the current form and performance of the two sides, we can say that the trip to Italy won’t be a walk in the park for Barcelona. The Blaugrana faced a lot of issues in recent times and with Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele unavailable. It is going to be a tough fixture for the Spanish Giants.
Napoli will be without Kevin Malcuit and Kalidou Koulibaly, when they face Barcelona in a crucial fixture as both the players are suffering from injuries.
As for Barcelona, Suarez and Dembele are suffering from a long-term injury while Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba are also sidelined from this fixture due to injury. The new signing, Martin Braithwaite cannot participate in the UCL as he was signed after the deadline for any new player registration.
Dries Mertens vs Gerard Pique
This is going to be an interesting battle as two experienced campaigners will fight each other to help their side in taking advantage to the second leg. Both Dries Mertens and Gerard Pique would be eager to make an impact in this fixture.
Mertens had an amazing Champions League group stage scoring five goals and providing one assist in his six appearances this season. Pique, on the other hand, also had decent tournaments so far with an average of 1.3 interceptions per game and six clearances per game in his four appearances.
The Napoli forward will be eyeing to find an early breakthrough for his side that would put the pressure on the away team. Pique, however, will act as a barrier but looking at the current defensive form of Barcelona, it will be tough to keep the Blues silent, tonight.
Nikola Maksimovic vs Lionel Messi
Do I need to justify who will win this battle? Well, Lionel Messi had a goal drought for four games, but he made some comeback in the last game against Eibar. The Barcelona skipper scored four goals as his side sailed away with a much needed 5-0 win.
It is surely going to be a tough night for Nikola Maksimovic because we all know how difficult it is to stop the in-form Messi. Napoli, however, are a quite strong side at home and they always find a way to keep their opponent silent.
Barcelona forward has a lot of pressure on his shoulders because his team hasn’t been at their best this season. Also, the pressure of not winning UCL since 2015 is increasing over the Blaugrana. So, I believe that Messi will find a way to get his side a much-needed away goal in this fixture.
The two sides are undefeated in all six UCL fixtures this season. Also, they are back to winning ways in their respective leagues as well. So, I think this will be a neck to neck battle with both sides trying to concede no goals and going to the second leg with a hope of winning the tie.
Napoli will have an advantage as they are playing at home. So, the crowd support is going to be phenomenal and the players would like to keep the smiles on their fans’ faces at the end of this fixture.
So, considering everything, I believe that Napoli will score a couple of goals due to the poor defending quality of Barcelona’s defensive line-up. The visitors, on the other hand, will get one goal back and it will be Messi who will be scoring this crucial away goal.
Predicted score: Napoli 2 – 1 Barcelona